Former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday condemned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s autocratic, “us-vs.-them” style of government and said she’s running for mayor because Chicago is “fundamentally headed in the wrong direction.”
Lightfoot said the issues she cares deeply about — economic justice, violence and police reform — have either “stagnated or gotten worse” in the nine months since she accepted reappointment from a mayor boxed in by the politics of police reform.
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It’s gotten to the point where she’s “lost confidence” that Emanuel is the “right leader for us going forward.”
“There’s an us-vs.-them style of governance. Listening to some people, not listening to others. Investing here, not investing there. Uplifting particular neighborhoods, but leaving way too many left behind,” Lightfoot said.
“If the mayor doesn’t have the capacity or the vision to bring people together, we’re never gonna be able to address big challenges like the tax burden on low-and middle-income people that is driving people out of the city. We have the only metropolitan area in the country that’s losing population. If that’s not the canary in the mineshaft, I don’t know what is. And yet, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency.”
On Tuesday, Lightfoot sat down with the Sun-Times for an exclusive interview to explain why she decided to become Emanuel’s eighth challenger.
Q. The black exodus is alarming. What’s the reason for it?
A. Our taxes are way too high. Opportunities to actually thrive economically are limited for way too many people. The violence clearly is a factor. We’re making progress on absolutely unreal, historically-high, terrible numbers on violent crime. [But] people don’t feel safe. … If people still don’t feel like their kids can go out on a beautiful day like today — if they feel pinned down in their homes, if they literally are learning duck-and-cover before they learn their A, B, C’s, we are going in the wrong direction.
Q. But the mayor had no choice but to raise taxes. Pension funds were going belly up. What taxes would you have raised instead of the ones he chose?
A.Those taxes – every single one of those is a regressive tax that puts more of the burden on low- and middle-income families. … What I’m going to do first and foremost is make sure we are doing everything we can to reduce the tax burden on middle-and lower-income people so we can keep them in the city.
Q. How do you give low-and middle-income families a pass when you need $2 billion in new revenue?
A. I’m not saying give them a pass. I’m saying first and foremost looking out for them because the tax burden on them is disproportionate. It’s regressive.
Q. You have said the Chicago Police Department “desperately needs” a new training academy, but Emanuel’s plan to build a $95 million complex in West Garfield Park is “ill-conceived.” What did that decision say about his management style?
A. It goes back to an us-vs.-them, top-down style of governance. … Putting that edifice to policing in the middle of one of the most economically distressed neighborhoods in our city and where the relationship between the police and the community is, at best, fraught, without engaging the community, making them partners and having a real seat at the table. … We’ve got to have a real plan that invites the community on the front end as a valued partner. That is a big difference in the way that I will govern as mayor and the way things are happening now. You see that style played out over and over again.
Q. Like where?
A. Same thing with the closing of the high schools in Englewood. Same thing with the [National Teachers Academy]. Fundamentally, I will trust people. I will listen to them. I will bring them into government. … I think I’m a likable person. But more importantly, people will see that I offer a very, very different style of leadership. I’m not gonna have to buy a sweater to convince them of that.
Q. Are there other examples?
A. The Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability. This was a group of community organizations that started their work two-plus years ago with the blessing of the mayor. They come up with a [civilian police oversight] proposal he doesn’t like. Rather than engaging with them respectfully, what happens? In the dark of night, he crafts two alternative ordinances, drops it and never had the decency to tell them about it up-front. I would never do something like that. The anger that generated. The level of disrespect those people felt – like their work meant nothing to him. Making all sorts of enemies everywhere. How is that leadership?
Q. We just finished a weekend where nine people were killed and scores more were shot. Is Supt. Eddie Johnson up to the job?
A. I have a lot of respect for Eddie Johnson. … I know that he understands the need to get the violence under control. We need to ask some tough questions, though. We’re on the cusp of summer. We just had this little bit of uptick in warm weather and a horrific result. Rather than doing victory laps and patting ourselves on the back, the public needs to know what is the comprehensive strategy to drive down the violence? … I have not seen one articulated and that needs to happen.
Q. Do you believe Mayor Emanuel deliberately withheld the Laquan McDonald shooting video until after the 2015 election and is that an issue in this campaign?
A. I don’t know if he did or he didn’t. But I know that there’s a wide, wide spread of the public that believes he absolutely did do that. That public belief is really palpable. It’s gonna be a factor in this election.
Q. Should Garry McCarthy have been fired or was he a scapegoat?
A. There were things that Garry did way before the video was released that are really troubling. He’s a guy that still sincerely believes that stop-and-frisk, stopping everything that moves without legal justification, without meeting the constitutional restrictions is appropriate. … His record is relevant. It’s not only relevant for him. It’s relevant for Rahm. The threshold question is, should he have been hired in the first instance? … There was a consent decree that followed after he left Newark. There’s gonna be a consent decree that follows after he left as superintendent in Chicago. A question in this race is, what was Rahm’s judgment in hiring him in the first instance?
Q. What about the judgment question at the Chicago Public Schools?
A. I don’t think [Emanuel] knew that Barbara Byrd-Bennett was a crook and she was trying to line her personal pocket. But again, Barbara Byrd-Bennett had a track record. If you had done the diligence, it would have given you pause.
Q. You’ve argued that the police contract “codifies the code of silence.” If you’re elected mayor, you would have to lead a police department that would be very suspicious of you for that. How do you do that?
A. I don’t accept your premise. I worked in the police department. I care very deeply about the success of the police department.
Q. Let’s talk about a sensitive subject. You are the only openly-gay candidate in the race. Is Chicago progressive enough to elect a black woman who is also openly-gay?
A. A triple-threat. That’s a joke. Look, I wouldn’t be stepping out in this way if I didn’t think that our city was ready. There’s been remarkable change — even in the last five years — in terms of our country’s change and its willingness to open its arms to people, regardless of who they love. The fact that I am able to marry, that I have a wonderful wife, that we have a 10-year-old child and that I can proudly say that without fear of retaliation from my employer, without fear of shunning from my family and my friends tells me that something really good has happened in our country.
Q. Do you support $175 million in infrastructure improvements for the Obama Presidential Center, including widening Lake Shore Drive?
A. There’s been a very specific community outcry — not only with where the proposed library is being located, but closing down Cornell Ave. [and] the environmental impact of the golf course. … There’s serious questions that remain about all of that. And also, the community is arguing for a community benefits agreement that, so far, has not been forthcoming.
Q. How about the $2.25 billion incentive package to attract Amazon’s second North American headquarters?
A. It is not worth bringing big corporations in here at any cost.
Q. If you’re elected mayor and Ald. Edward Burke (14th) is re-elected, will he be your Finance Chairman?
A. No. … I’ve got a real problem with anybody who professes to be a public servant that is profiting on the side for decision-making and policy-making that comes from the public body in which they serve. It’s a clear conflict of interest. There’s no transparency around workers compensation and a number of other things solely in the province of the Finance Committee … It’s time for new leadership.
Q. Are you open to reducing the size of the City Council?
A. We have to take a look at that. … I’m open to anything that would take the tax burden off of lower- and middle-income families.
Q. Can you raise enough money to get your story out? How much do you need?
A. I’m not gonna get into specifics. We will raise enough money for us to be competitive, to get our [story] out, to deal with the slings and arrows that are surely gonna come our way. I have every confidence in that.