Lori Lightfoot runs on equity, inclusion

The attorney and former Police Board head says she's a stark contrast to Mayor Emanuel

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By Michael Romain


In an extensive phone interview last week, Lori Lightfoot, the attorney and former head of the Police Board, said that the first day of her formal campaign for Mayor of Chicago started on the West Side for a reason. 

She took a train from the Austin neighborhood and rode it downtown, where she made her official announcement at the Hyatt Regency. 

According to recent government data that has generated headlines in publications like Chicago Magazine, the average resident of the Loop lives to be 85 years old while the average resident of West Garfield Park lives to be just 69. 

"I wanted to emphasize that traumatic statistic and talk about the lack of investment on the West Side and all over the city on a range of different issues," Lightfoot said. 

Lightfoot launched into a litany of those issues contributing to that remarkable disparity — including the high unemployment rate, the high number of people on public assistance and the lack of viable healthcare options. Below is a summary of that interview. 

On the proposed emergency training facility in West Garfield Park 

Lightfoot said that she understands the need for the facility and for police officers to be training in "constitutional policing," but that the way the city is approaching the project is "ill-conceived." 

"When you say, 'I'm going to invest $100 million in policing,' without saying, 'I'm going to make other investments across the city for neighborhoods in need on this and this issue,' it creates an 'us versus them' mentality."

Lightfoot said that the activists behind #NoCopAcademy have legitimate concerns and may feel that "the mayor has not heard their voices" by investing $100 million in a police department that the activists "feel, to put it bluntly, has been against them on a number of different fronts." 

Lightfoot added that the city's approach fits a pattern endemic within the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel — top-down and technocratic rather than bottom-up and based on grassroots community organizing and coalition-building. 

Lightfoot said that city lawmakers should "engage people were they are," that investment in the city should be "part of a larger economic strategy" to spur desperately needed growth in neighborhoods, and that community input should not just be "filtered through local aldermen." 

On a major leadership contrast between her and the mayor

Lightfoot said that she differs from Emanuel on her view "of community engagement and what equity and inclusion really mean." She said that the city should "engage people on the front end and not on the back end" in a variety of decisions. 

She added that in the area of education, for instance, "parents, teachers and public stakeholders are not regarded as valued partners." In public safety, for instance, she said that "people whose lives are most directly affected by police actions are not part of the administration." 

On how effective police reforms can be implemented 

Lightfoot said that some reforms may take place in the context of a consent decree. In addition, she said, the city "should be speaking its values" during contract negotiations — "whether with police or with labor." She said that, "for far too long," contract negotiations have been viewed by the city as simply transactional. 

She said that over a year she's been calling for Emanuel's administration to name announce a value statement during FOP contract negotiations and to try working police in reforms during contract talks so that those reforms carry some weight — "but we've been met with total silence." 

On whether or not she is prepared to confront backlash from the police union over some of her policy proposals if she wins 

Lightfoot said that she doesn't think that the reactionary behavior of the police union — for example, protesting against the mayor because he won't reinstate Officer Anthony Rialmo, who murdered an unarmed Betty Jones and Quintonio LeGrier, who was wielding a bat, on the West Side in 2015 — is "entirely representative of their rank and file." 

On Memorial Day, Lightfoot said, she was stopped outside of a Walgreens in the city by a 14th District police officer.

"'He said, 'Are you who I think you are?' And then he reached his hand out and shook my hand and said, 'I just want to thank you for what you're doing.'" Lightfoot said. "I have that encounter on a fairly regular basis with rank and file police union members." 

On leveraging her expertise as an attorney and risk manager in her role as mayor

Lightfoot, an attorney and risk manager, said that one of her first priorities as mayor would be to follow the recommendation of the city's inspector general and hire and empower a risk manager.

"We're a multibillion dollar [entity] that has no robust risk management function," she said. "That's wrong." 

Lightfoot said she would give the person appointed to the role the mandate to "look across every city department and ID ways we can immediately be better stewards of tax dollars." 

On her personal interests 

Lightfoot described herself as a "rabid sports fan," who in the first year of President Donald Trump "spent a lot of time reading the sports page and listening to sport talk radio." 

"I'm also a gardener and a voracious reader," she said, before listing some of the books she's currently devouring. They include a book by James Stewart called Tangled Webs: How False Statements Are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.

"It was written in 2011, but it reads like he wrote it for today," Lightfoot said.

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com   

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