Exhausted, but exhilarated by her landslide victory, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot hit the ground running Wednesday by holding transition meetings with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Lightfoot and Emanuel have had a tense relationship to say the least.
Boxed in by the politics of police reform, the mayor had no choice but to re-appoint Lightfoot to a second term as police board president.
But before doing that, he tried and failed to extract a promise from her that she wouldn’t use the platform — and the all-important role he gave her as co-chair of his Task Force on Police Accountability — to run for mayor.
Lightfoot also opposed Emanuel’s decision to build a $95 million police academy in West Garfield Park, pressured the mayor to sign a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department and criticized the mayor for failing to deliver on his promise of civilian police review.
If there was lingering animosity from any of those controversies, it didn’t show during their 45-minute meeting in the mayor’s City Hall office.
Emanuel made a show of walking Lightfoot out of his office and shaking his replacement’s hand so the wall of television cameras could get a shot of the gracious gesture.
“It was a very, very cordial conversation. He was extremely generous and I’m grateful,” Lightfoot said, joking that she “did not measure the drapes” in the mayor’s office.
“It was a very cordial and productive conversation. I think, the first of many. And I was very pleased. … You sit down with the existing mayor and his team and they run through issues of mutual concern and importance. … It was very important for me.”
Former President Barack Obama, who resisted pressure to endorse Toni Preckwinkle as the bitter campaign drew to a close, called Lightfoot on election night to congratulate the new mayor on her landslide victory. Wednesday, Obama tweeted about the race.
“I know that with our city’s heart and Lori’s leadership, Chicago’s best days are still ahead,” Obama said in the tweet.
Great to see Chicago’s historic mayoral race between two highly qualified candidates. Congrats to our next mayor, Lori Lightfoot—and Toni Preckwinkle campaigned hard and did us proud. I know that with our city’s heart and Lori’s leadership, Chicago’s best days are still ahead.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) April 3, 2019
Emanuel didn’t call Tuesday. He was waiting to deliver his congratulations — and a 250-to-350-page transition book — in person.
“In person is a better way to communicate directly the passion I have,” Emanuel said before Wednesday’s meeting.
“This is one of, if not the greatest jobs in public life. And it’s a real treasure and it’s an honor to get the confidence of the public to do it. I’m gonna tell her that in person. I think it’s really important to do it in person.”
Lightfoot’s 73.7 percent victory over Preckwinkle makes Emanuel’s 56 percent victory in 2011 look paltry.
Emanuel congratulated Lightfoot on “running a great campaign.”
“She won a big election, a big margin. And the more important thing than the margin to me is, she won every ward,” the mayor said.
“People have an obligation to work with her and help define not only the agenda but see it through.”
Lightfoot has only 47 days to put together a government. That’s why Emanuel is promising a “seamless” transition.
“Everything that Lori wants and her team wants, there’ll be no bottleneck. We’re gonna make sure that she can, on Day One, hit the ground running and see her agenda that she ran on all the way through.”
After leaving City Hall, Lightfoot headed to police headquarters to meet with Police Supt. Eddie Johnson about Johnson’s plan to combat the traditional summer surge of violence.
She was inside headquarters for about 90 minutes, and did not speak to reporters gathered outside on her way in, or as she left.
Last week, Johnson made the case to keep the $260,044-a-year job for which he never applied and acknowledged some officers “look the other way” when it comes to reporting police misconduct.
“The reason it’s so difficult to change police cultures is because the leadership changes so often. Every three years you have to start over again,” Johnson told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Johnson needs one more year to be fully vested in his pension as superintendent. But he emphatically denied that’s what’s behind his desire to stay.
“It’s about this city, and it’s about the police department. I honestly, with every bone in my body, want to see this police department looked at in a more positive light in certain areas of this city,” he said.
Lightfoot had a good relationship with Johnson as police board president. But she’s been non-committal about retaining him, even as she reaffirmed her commitment to deliver public safety to every corner of Chicago.
“Our kids’ lives depend upon keeping them safe. That has to be a fundamental duty and responsibility for me as mayor. That means we have to continue hard but necessary work of bridging the divide between police and communities they serve,” she said.
“Our children … deserve to grow up in an environment where fear is not their constant companion. And I’m determined to do everything I can to make sure every kid — in every neighborhood regardless of zip code, economic status and race or ethnicity — is able to live a life of safety. Without that, nothing else is possible. That is a sacred obligation that I take on willingly.”
Contributing: Nirmal Mulaikal