He’s stuck with Lori Lightfoot. That’s great for Chicago.
Lightfoot’s two-year term as president of the Chicago Police Board expired Monday. Mayor Rahm Emanuel left her in the lurch for a few days, then, after a long meeting, announced her reappointment.
Ouch. There is nothing more important to Emanuel than control. For better or worse, he is compelled to muscle everything and everyone in his path.
That’s the way it is, right? In Chicago, the mayor appoints, and the mayor taketh away.
Mayors appoint top professionals to boards and commissions, and task them with policy oversight of the city’s most important agendas. But those appointees all know who’s the boss. They are there to be seen, not heard.
The deal is, if I appoint you, you jump. Or you’re gone.
Lori Lightfoot didn’t jump. Instead, she has dissented, firmly and repeatedly, with the mayor over the pace and shape of police reform. In fact, she has used her platform to speak up for the community, especially people of color.
She’s still there.
Lightfoot, a distinguished former federal prosecutor and partner at the law firm Mayer Brown, deployed her razor-sharp intellect and unflinching toughness to her Herculean tasks in tumultuous times. She also served as co-chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. Lightfoot led the treacherous national search for a new police superintendent.
The last police board president served for 19 years. Those years, and long before, witnessed a toxic relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. They were years of police-involved cases of abuse, harassment, and corruption. Years of many multi-millions of dollars in misconduct settlements.
It makes you wonder. Who do these board appointees work for? The mayor, or the people?
Lightfoot chose the people. She has, publicly and repeatedly, questioned Emanuel’s commitment to a credible, transparent, community centric reform.
She stood up after the mayor reneged on a pledge to President Barack Obama’s Justice Department — to enter a court-ordered consent decree that would mandate and monitor reforms.
The Emanuel administration announced it would instead pursue “memorandum of agreement” with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has been highly critical of consent decrees. President Donald J. Trump has voiced deep skepticism about the need for reform.
Not so fast, Lightfoot said. The memorandum is “fundamentally flawed. It will not help advance the cause of reform in Chicago. And frankly, I think it sets the Police Department up for failure.”
The 70-page agreement offered few specifics of how reform would be achieved, she argued.
“If we indulge in the fantasy that this Department of Justice with this attorney general would actually take the department into court on an uncured default, there’s no specifics on which they could enforce specific performance,” Lightfoot said.
History and common sense shows that City Hall can’t be trusted to repair policing on its own.
No wonder the mayor hesitated to keep Lightfoot on the case. Yet, if Emanuel had declined to reappoint her, he would be doubling down on that distrust.
Some speculate Emanuel was moving to ward off a possible Lightfoot challenge in Emanuel’s expected run for re-election.
She isn’t interested. She will continue to serve as an influential catalyst for changing policing in Chicago, and do Emanuel an ironic favor. If he starts listening to Lightfoot, he might begin to repair his dismal prospects with black voters.
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