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Lightfoot: Chicago’s rising infections and falling revenues are of ‘great concern’

Chicago was hit hard by coronavirus earlier this year and is now suffering through a second surge. In addition, state and local budgets have fallen significantly due to the pandemic. With federal stimulus talks stalled, mayors like Lori Lightfoot are on their own. Lightfoot joins Judy Woodruff to discuss COVID-19 numbers, possible new state restrictions and her reaction to the federal response.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The latest COVID-19 outbreak has returned to places like Chicago, which had been hit hard by the virus earlier this year.

    Also taking a hit, state and local budgets. And with stimulus talks in Washington stalled, many mayors are on their own in this trying time.

    Lori Lightfoot is the mayor of Chicago. And she joins us now.

    Welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Mayor Lightfoot, we heard Governor Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, say yesterday that a COVID storm is coming. What does the situation look like right now in Chicago?

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    Well, it is of great concern.

    We're seeing the rate of new cases really escalate in the same way that we saw them back in the spring. We are seeing a slight uptick in hospitalizations, not ICU beds yet, thankfully. But we're very concerned.

    We announced some steps and measures last week to step back some of the measures that we had put in place in slightly opening up our economy. But we're very concerned about the second surge.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Governor Pritzker saying that he is going to impose restrictions again. They will be starting on Friday on indoor dining. What other restrictions are you looking at coming?

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    Well, there's a number of restrictions, and we're very concerned about them.

    Our restaurant industry, our bars, our gyms, indoor spaces, if the governor's order goes into effect, it's really effectively shutting down a significant portion of our economy, at a time when those same businesses are really hanging on by a thread.

    So, we're going to continue our engagement of the governor, of his team. But if it's not looking good. And if we can't convince him that other metrics should apply, then the shutdown, unfortunately, is going to take effect starting Friday, by state order.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, it sounds like you think it's the wrong decision to do this.

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    Well, I think that we have got to look at what our metrics are.

    No question we're seeing an uptick in cases. We're also seeing percent positivity go up. But hospitalizations are not at the breaking point, like they — we feared back in the spring. And I think that's an important metric that needs to have some really significant rate.

    And, also, we have got to be very surgical in the way that we impose these new restrictions. The truth is that where we're seeing the greatest challenges is in people's homes, in social setting that are not public.

    That's harder to regulate, to be sure, but that's, at least in Chicago, where we're seeing the challenges. Two-thirds of the people that are testing positive and are talking to our case investigators are telling us that they got it from somebody that they knew, and that they got it in a home or other social setting that's not in public.

    So, we're taking additional steps to really address those circumstances where we're seeing the cases increase. So, I'm not sure that we're reaching the right people with the restrictions that are going to be imposed by the state. And that's my concern.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was just in the last few days that you announced, what, a $1.2 billion shortfall in the Chicago city budget.

    You called for increases in property taxes, cutting the number of city workers. Just how much of a financial strain, crisis are you facing?

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    It's significant.

    We have an $800 million shortfall in our 2020 budget, where we would have been on track to meet — to beat our budgeted expectations. And 100 percent of that 2020 shortfall is COVID-related.

    We have a $1.2 billion budget deficit for next year, 2021, and 65 percent of that shortfall is COVID-related. That's why it's so distressing that the federal government has failed to recognize not just the plight of a city like Chicago, but cities and towns all over the country, red, blue, purple, independent, Democrat, Republican.

    This is a virus that doesn't respect political boundaries or geographic boundaries. And we need a bipartisan solution for this bipartisan problem. So, we're going to keep pushing every lever that we can think of, but, for now, we're not getting additional help from the federal government.

    So, our pandemic budget, which is what we're talking about it as, really relies upon us in Chicago making the tough, hard choices that are going to be necessary to balance our budget, as we are mandated to do by law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A little bit earlier, I spoke with the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council. Brooke Rollins is her name, acting director.

    And she said — because I was asking her why it's taken so long to reach an agreement. She said the president is pushing as hard as he can. And she said, we want you, Mayor Lightfoot, and other mayors to be at the table. But she also said, we have to realize what's best for the American people, talk about people in distress and distressed and forgotten communities.

    What does that say to you?

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    To me, that's just a bunch of rhetoric.

    From the very beginning of this pandemic, myself and other mayors have reached out to the president, to the vice president. We have asked them repeatedly to make sure that mayors, a bipartisan group and geographically diverse group of mayors, had a role to play in the national response, so that they could hear it from the grassroots level.

    They have ignored us at every turn. And they have, frankly, turned their IGA function into a politicized bunch of hacks who attack Democratic mayors. They started attacking with Muriel Bowser. Then they came to me, then Jenny Durkan, then Keisha Lance Bottoms.

    They have zero interest in actually forging real, concrete relationships with mayors across this country. It's a total missed opportunity. And we have known from a very long time that we are going to have to fight this fight without meaningful support from the White House and the executive branch.

    But it's a real shame. And, unfortunately, I think lives have been lost because of not only the mismanagement from the White House, but the absolute unwillingness to fully engage and make sure that they're listening to local leaders, so that we can forge solutions that save people's lives, that educate them, and keep them safe

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we are going to have to leave it there.

    But, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, we certainly wish you the best with all you're dealing with.

    Thank you very much.

  • Lori Lightfoot:

    Thank you, Judy. Appreciate you.

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