Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot became the first mayor of the Windy City to lose reelection in 40 years when she was defeated in Tuesday’s primary, and an exodus of major corporations from the Chicago area preceded her electoral defeat amid surging crime.
Lightfoot was elected mayor in 2019, and her tenure grew controversial as crime rose during the pandemic. In 2021, murders in Chicago reached their highest level in 25 years, outpacing other crime-ridden cities like New York City and Los Angeles.
While homicides ebbed last year, other crimes continued to rise. Lightfoot sparred with the city’s law enforcement over a variety of issues and her failure to address the increase in violent crime prompted many corporations to relocate their headquarters out of the Chicago area.
Boeing became the first major corporation to head for the exits when it announced in May 2022 that it would move its global headquarters from Chicago, where it had been located since 2001, and establish a new headquarters for its defense, space and security operations in Arlington, Virginia.
Caterpillar followed suit a month later, announcing it would move its global headquarters from the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois, to Irving, Texas.
Billionaire Ken Griffin announced last June that he would move his hedge fund, Citadel, from Chicago to Miami. Rising crime rates in Chicago reportedly played a role in Griffin’s decision. Griffin’s letter announcing the move said that while the city "will continue to be important to the future of Citadel," he noted, "Over the past year, however, many of our Chicago teams have asked to relocate to Miami, New York and our other offices around the world."
In April 2022, two months before he announced the move, Griffin told the Wall Street Journal, "I’ve had multiple colleagues mugged at gunpoint. I’ve had a colleague stabbed on the way to work. Countless issues of burglary. I mean, that’s a really difficult backdrop with which to draw talent to your city from."
Last September, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said the fast food giant was facing challenges in recruiting top talent to work in its headquarters in Chicago despite relocating some workers from the suburb of Romeoville into the city.
He said that it was time to "face facts" about the impact of crime on the city’s economy and noted, "The fact is that there are fewer large companies headquartered in Chicago this year than last year. There are fewer this month than last month."
Lightfoot fired back, "I think what would have been helpful is for the McDonald’s CEO to educate himself before he spoke."
The list of companies leaving Chicago grew further in October 2022 when Tyson Foods announced that it would move all of its corporate teams to its headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas. Tyson gained its Chicago facility when it acquired Jimmy Dean sausage maker Hillshire Brands in 2014 and used the location to run its prepared foods business.
Chicago will hold a runoff election for mayor on April 4. Voters will choose between former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.