Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot names top officials in her new administration

Chicago Tribune |

--Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot announced her administration's first key hires on Wednesday, appointing central operatives who will help confront newly disclosed city budget problems and work with a revamped City Council once she takes office.

Jennie Huang Bennett, the chief financial officer at Chicago Public Schools, will bring her expertise in the complex world of public finance to City Hall as Lightfoot's top financial officer.

Bennett helps supervise a roughly $6 billion CPS operating budget that's won a measure of stability from extra state money for teacher pensions and additional property tax dollars. That money helped the district borrow at lower rates, ease off some of its need for enormous cash loans and win slight upgrades to what are still junk bonds.

Mark Flessner, a partner at the Holland & Knight law firm and a former federal prosecutor, will join the administration as Lightfoot's corporation counsel. As the city's top attorney, Flessner will take on an enormous job that litigates cases for the city, oversees big development projects and offers legal advice to an array of departments and operations.

And Maurice Classen, who worked with Lightfoot when she was head of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, will be the mayor-elect's chief of staff.

The three top operatives have plenty to do.

Lightfoot could need to come up with more than $200 million beyond what outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel previously estimated in the 2020 city budget to cover higher pension payments and costs previously covered with expensive borrowing, Emanuel's chief financial officer said Wednesday. That would push the budget shortfall Lightfoot faces north of $700 million, higher-than-expected costs the incoming mayor didn't know about until recently.

The Police Department must navigate a federal consent decree and its struggles to address city violence. Activists have sued to challenge the use of property tax subsidies for the massive Lincoln Yards development, and Lightfoot must set out how she'll pursue the ambitious agenda that helped her dominate the spring election.

Lightfoot's office said Dan Lurie, a former Obama administration official, will work as the mayor-elect's policy director.

Celia Meza will serve as Lightfoot's counsel and senior ethics adviser -- a new position the mayor-elect's office said was "designed to provide clarity and ethical guidance to the mayor's office, while the corporation counsel represents the city as a whole."

Candace Moore, an attorney for the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, will work as Lightfoot's "chief equity officer." Lightfoot's camp said Moore will create new policies intended to address the city's long-standing income and race based inequities.

Susie Park, a police finance official, will serve as the city's budget director.


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