How Chicago’s Mayor Became the Patron Saint of Stay-At-Home

While Andrew Cuomo has emerged as an unlikely sex symbol for fawning liberals during the COVID crisis, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot represents his chaste counterpart.

Perhaps you’ve seen the commemorative bobblehead dolls or the “Our Lady Of Quarantine” prayer candles; a roll of toilet paper in her grasp glowing with holy power. Sometimes she’s depicted as the no-nonsense boss; Chicago’s Iron Lady. Maybe you’ve caught wind of the memes. Everyone loves the memes.

They’re all essentially the same: a grim-faced Lightfoot photoshopped to appear as if she’s personally barricading Chicago’s lakefront parks, blocking entry to subway tunnels, or shooing patrons away from the classic diner in Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks. My favorite is a mock Marvel Comics cover in which the Second City’s mayor is sketched like a modern-day Gandalf, clad in a frumpy grey pantsuit instead of wizard robes, shouting “You shall not pass!!!” while wielding a staff; as if poised to strike down anyone who dares to violate social distancing rules.

Lightfoot was more than happy to banter about her memeification recently with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show.” After all, it’s essentially fan fiction celebrating her power-grabbing authoritarian streak during the pandemic as badass #Girlbossing.

Granted, it’s easy to see why this might seem appealing. Now that America is facing the worst crisis in at least a generation and tens of thousands of people are dying, Donald Trump has decided to pass on governing. Instead, we helplessly watch as he experiences all seven stages of narcissistic grief: denial, downplaying, bullshitting, bargaining, buck-passing, impotent raging, and now, it seems, passive acceptance. 

But liberals’ thirst for strong leadership has gone too far.

Despite all of the cries of Trump’s fascism, what the #Resistance seems to desire during the pandemic isn’t more democracy—it’s media-savvy totalitarianism, a woke dictator with sleek PowerPoint presentations. Their hunky boyfriend Cuomo seems intent on using COVID-fueled emergency power to deliver his own technocratic brand of shock doctrine to New York. He keeps handing down new executive orders (27 at last count) from whatever passes for Mt. Olympus in Albany—changing everything from primary elections, medical malpractice liability, and public health law. That was just a warm-up. Last week, Cuomo announced that he’s tapping Bill Gates and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt to “reimagine” New York’s economy, health care system, and school system.  

To a slightly lesser extent, Lightfoot has followed suit. Despite running as a reform candidate; an antidote to her heavy-handed predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, she’s been governing a lot like him. For instance, she played hardball with the Chicago Teachers Union during last year’s strike and created a website to bash city leaders who opposed her budget that called for more austerity. Since the coronavirus struck in March, Lightfoot seems to have embraced Rahm’s unofficial slogan of “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Last month, she strong-armed her way to approval for an emergency powers ordinance that grants her administration unilateral decisions about COVID-related spending without City Council deliberation. 

“The City Council must resist the urge to act on fear by giving one individual, Lori Lightfoot, total control over the city and its finances,” warned Alderman Raymond Lopez, one of 21 of 50 aldermen who voted against the ordinance. Instead of making peace with those who dissent, Lightfoot goes with the cold shoulder treatment or open disdain.

The mayor saves the bulk of her fury for ordinary citizens who defy some of the strictest stay-at-home edicts in the country. When she’s not using Chicago police to ticket or arrest people who—for instance—visit the 17-plus miles of now-empty Lake Michigan shoreline, she’s personally driving around neighborhoods to break up parties.  “We will shut you down, we will cite you, and if we have to, we will arrest you,” she said during a recent press conference. “Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and refuse to do what’s necessary to save lives in the middle of a pandemic, we will take you to jail. Period.”

Using cops and punitive measures to enforce social distancing should alarm those who think of themselves as “the left,” but liberals keep cheering her on, hoping she throws the book at every person who as much as exhales without a mask strapped on their faces.  It’s telling that Lightfoot isn’t quite so tough on landlords. In the face of countless thousands unable to pay rent due to skyrocketing unemployment, she’s ignored repeated calls to cancel any rent or mortgage payments—including one lawmaker’s proposal to postpone rent for 12 months. 

The mayor’s solution to the housing crisis? A Hunger Games-style rent lottery for 2,000 lucky Chicagoans, and a so-called “Chicago Housing Solidarity Pledge” in which participating landlords agree to offer tenants grace periods or promise to waive late fees for missed payments. Because it’s non-binding, it’s clear that the pledge is really about solidarity with landlords. 

That Lightfoot offers punishment to the working class and solidarity to elites is no surprise to those paying close attention to her politics. But many contemporary liberals have a tendency to go skin-deep, elevating the act of electing people with marginalized identities to the highest act of radical progressivism, even if their policies do very little to help the poor and marginalized masses. All the media could crow about when she was elected was that she was the office’s first-ever queer woman of color; not that she was a former federal prosecutor with close ties to Chicago’s neoliberal establishment.

“She’s a woman of color in our city making shit happen,” said the Chicago tattoo artist selling the prayer candles.

For liberals, it may not matter if that shit is any good.