(Bloomberg) -- As Chicago struggles with rising crime and high-profile corporate departures, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a message for business leaders: It’s time to be a cheerleader for their city. 

The Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this month, is urging executives who have “profited mightily” to tell their success stories, she said in an interview at Bloomberg’s office in Chicago. While New York has renowned business giants such as JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon, Lightfoot said her city has an opportunity for its leaders to promote its economic competitiveness and bolster its reputation.

It’s a critical effort after a year that has seen the Windy City and its suburbs lose giants including Ken Griffin’s Citadel, plane maker Boeing Co., manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. and local offices of Tyson Foods Inc. At the same time, violence is sparking outrage among residents and slowing a recovery of Chicago’s downtown after the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“What we need — like we see, frankly, in other cities, and we remind them of that — is people who are die-hard Chicagoans who are championing our businesses,” Lightfoot, 60, said in response to query on who the city’s Dimon-like figure is. “I can’t tell you, ‘Oh, here’s our Jamie Dimon,’ but we’ve got a number of people across every sector that are strong.”

Dimon’s outspokenness across finance and politics made him not only one of New York’s biggest business personalities, but a national voice that moves markets and openly spars with Wall Street critics. Griffin somewhat played that role in Chicago — but his departure for Miami has left a void. The billionaire, who had been Illinois’s richest man, has said issues such as crime and the state’s chronic budget problems played a role in his move. 

Read more: Griffin Leaves Stamp on Chicago With a $130 Million Giving Spree

A Citadel spokesperson said last year that Griffin paid more than $200 million in taxes in Illinois in each of the past two years. He has given more than $600 million to organizations in Chicago since 1989. Citadel employees in Chicago have paid over $1 billion in taxes to the state over the past decade, according to Zia Ahmed, a Citadel spokesperson.

Lightfoot argues that the economic impact of his departure has been limited. Citadel still employs about 850 people in Chicago, compared with a peak of 1,100. That’s a fraction of the workers that fuel the city’s financial-services firms, the mayor said. The region employs more than 273,000 workers in financial activities, according to federal data.

“Perception, I think, is more of a challenge than the reality,” Lightfoot said. “I feel very, very good about the commitment of our business community, even with the departure of Ken Griffin.”

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who had never held political office, made history in 2019 when she became the city’s first Black, female and openly gay mayor. Her first term has been anything but easy as the pandemic took hold. Crime complaints jumped 41% last year and 33% since the year she took office.

The mayor and the police department have been working to make the city safer, but the results have been mixed. In 2022, shooting incidents, murders, aggravated battery and criminal sexual assaults fell, but burglary and theft rose, according to Chicago Police Department data. Motor vehicle theft doubled from a year earlier.

Lightfoot’s now in a tough fight for a second term, facing eight candidates in the city’s nonpartisan mayoral election on Feb. 28. Her biggest challengers are seen as US Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Paul Vallas, former head of school districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Both have made public safety a top priority for their campaigns.

Corporate Embrace

Lightfoot, often seen as holding corporate executives at arm’s length, is seeking closer ties with the business community in recent months. She said she has met several CEOs, including Terry Duffy, the head of exchange CME Group Inc., to discuss crime and some of the city’s biggest issues.

“CME is a very important business in our city,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear out there, and fear causes all sorts of anxieties and emotions and we’ve got to deal with that because perceptions on crime become reality.”

See also: Chicago Mayor Turns to CEOs for Support in Tough Reelection Bid

Lightfoot disputed the idea that she doesn’t have a good relationship with the business community. But in one high-profile exchange, she sparred with McDonald’s Corp. CEO Chris Kempczinski after he told a meeting of the Economic Club of Chicago that the rise in violence was making it harder to lure executives to the city. A few days later, Lightfoot said at a news conference that Kempczinski needs to “educate himself” on the matter.

“I’d like the business community, universally, to be more cheerleaders of our city and I’ve been very blunt and candid about that,” she said. “But the notion that ‘oh, well, the mayor doesn’t have a good relationship with the business community and she doesn’t talk to them,’ it’s just utter nonsense.”

Lightfoot has had some recent wins. Just last quarter, the city’s debt was upgraded by Fitch Ratings Inc. for the first time in more than a decade, while Moody’s Investors Service elevated Chicago out of junk status. Much as with a person’s credit, the better bond ratings will allow the city to cut borrowing costs and save Chicago money.

The Moody’s upgrade came a day after the Chicago City Council approved Lightfoot’s $16.4 billion 2023 budget, which includes an additional $242 million in early pension payments. Her administration increased its annual contributions by about $1 billion over the last three years, and argues it will continue to be able to pay down pension debt even as the country heads into a likely recession. 

The city also got a boost from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which bought a downtown building the size of a city block. Food giant Kellogg Co. announced that the snack division, the biggest piece as the company splits into three, would locate its headquarters in Chicago. The region is now taking steps to lure more firms, with a plan to promote Chicagoland as a business hub over the next three years, starting with a $1 million commitment for 2023.

Still, Lightfoot wants to see more people return to Chicago’s downtown and fill the office towers that have been partially empty with the rise of remote work. She says many of the CEOs that were reluctant to order workers back because of fears of losing talent are now changing their tune. 

“We’ve got to get people back to work,” she said. “Synergy happens, innovation happens, accountability happens when people are working together.”

(Adds interview query in fourth paragraph and Citadel comment in sixth paragraph.)

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