Politicians often do what’s right just because they can’t get around it.
So it went for President Donald Trump on Wednesday, when, pouting all the way, he signed legislation that imposes additional sanctions on Russia. He knew Congress would have overruled his veto anyway.
And so it went for Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday, when he announced he would reappoint Lori Lightfoot, an outspoken critic who carries weight with community groups and the media, to another term as president of the Chicago Police Board. He knew he’d catch hell if he didn’t.
We’ll go no further with this comparison between the president and the mayor, out of fairness to the mayor. Trump always does what’s best for Trump. Emanuel’s differences with Lightfoot, on the other hand, are grounded in honest differences about how far and fast the Chicago Police Department can be reformed without dangerously demoralizing the rank and file. The mayor has blamed low morale for less aggressive police work.
Lightfoot’s reappointment, all the same, is good for Chicago, and for Emanuel. Every mayor needs a loyal opposition, an independent power center willing to challenge and check him. We also agree with Lightfoot that a full-bore reform of the Police Department, especially to make it more respectful of civil liberties, would not inevitably beat down morale. Good cops want to do the best possible police work.
Historically, the Police Board, which oversees the discipline of accused officers, has been a farce. Its primary job, unofficially, has been to cover up for cops who screw up. It has a long history of reversing the recommendations of superintendents who want to fire bad officers. Under Lightfoot, the board has been tougher. Lightfoot also was the co-chair of a task force that in April issued a scathing assessment of Chicago police practices.
Adding to Emanuel’s headaches, Lightfoot in June reviewed the mayor’s plan to reform the Police Department and pronounced it “fundamentally flawed.” She did not call on the mayor to submit the department’s overhaul to oversight by a federal court, as we and others have. But she made it clear the mayor’s go-it-alone plans were not, to her thinking, good enough.
If Lightfoot, who is talked about as a future candidate for mayor, is the loyal opposition, it’s good to remember to whom she is loyal. Not to the mayor, but to Chicago.
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