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Preckwinkle back on TV; commercial targets Lightfoot’s role in fatal 2004 fire

A new campaign commercial for Toni Preckwinkle slams Lori Lightfoot over her actions after a fatal fire in 2004. | Screenshot

After yanking her television commercials more than a week ago, Toni Preckwinkle is back on the air with an ad that tries to light a fire under Lori Lightfoot.

With the election just six days away, Preckwinkle has purchased $50,000 in television time to air a commercial reminding Chicago voters that a judge once reprimanded Lightfoot for her “shockingly lax” handling of a lawsuit stemming from a 2004 fire that killed four children.

At the time, Lightfoot was chief of staff and general counsel for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

The $50,000 buy is paltry in Chicago political circles. By comparison, Lightfoot is spending $771,000 on television advertising in the campaign’s final week.

But the message Preckwinkle wants to deliver is nevertheless hard-hitting.

“A tragic fire made worse when the 911 call center run by Lori Lightfoot allegedly botched the response, costing lives. To cover it up, Lightfoot allegedly lied. Became extremely evasive and evidence was destroyed or deliberately withheld,” a narrator says over unflattering photos of Lightfoot and scenes of the fatal fire.

“A judge called her actions shocking and `very, very troubling.’ If she wouldn’t do what was right then, how will Lori Lightfoot bring in the light now?”

The last line is a play on Lightfoot’s campaign slogan.

Shortly before the new ad was released, Lightfoot fired back during an unrelated news conference to unveil her program to assist ex-offenders.

She said Preckwinkle, at a Monday night debate, had tried to “distort what had happened” in that case.

“The fact that President Preckwinkle was using the tragedy of four children killed as a political prop was offensive,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot said her campaign put out a statement quoting her former boss, then-OEMC Executive Director Ron Huberman, to “set the record straight.”

“We were both there at the same time. We remember the details of that fire very well. What our actions were to make sure that we investigated exactly what had happened,” Lightfoot said.

“I gave an order to preserve those records and, unfortunately, they were written over. That should never have happened.”

Huberman was an all-purpose troubleshooter for former Mayor Richard M. Daley, serving as chief of staff, CTA president, Chicago Public Schools CEO and as executive director of OEMC after masterminding technology for the Chicago Police Department.

His statement chastised Preckwinkle for what he called her “outrageous” portrayal of “Lori’s response to the tragic 2004 fire.”

“I recall, from the moment she became aware there was an allegation of a delayed dispatch, that she was immediately focused and thorough in tracking down every detail,” Huberman was quoted as saying.

“In every way, Lori was objective, transparent and compassionate in her follow-up. It was not Lori, but rather the corporation counsel’s office who litigated this case. Lori’s responses and follow-up to this tragic event were exemplary. Throughout her tenure at OEMC, Lori was a true leader who inspired those around her.”

At $50,000, Preckwinkle will be able to air her hard-hitting commercial only about four times on each station.

A political consultant who asked to remain anonymous called it “more of an earned commercial than a paid one” because it likely will lead to more free media stories about the ad.

In a press release about the new commercial, Preckwinkle campaign manager Jessey Neves portrayed Lightfoot as a hypocrite.

“Lori Lightfoot says she wants to bring in the light, but her actions tell a different story,” Neves was quoted as saying.

“This tragic story sheds light on the fact that, when Lori Lightfoot had the opportunity to show accountability and transparency, she led a troubling cover up.”