Lightfoot slams Republicans running for governor over making Chicago crime a campaign issue

“Vilifying the economic engine of your state just strikes me as a really foolhardy strategy,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a kickoff news conference for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a kickoff news conference for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — Mayor Lori Lightfoot said GOP candidates for governor, making crime — especially in Chicago — central campaign themes should think twice about damaging the city’s reputation.

“Vilifying the economic engine of your state just strikes me as a really foolhardy strategy,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

I interviewed Lightfoot in the Capitol Hilton during breaks in sessions of the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting here with part of our conversation about how the Republicans are using Chicago crime to rally the GOP base in the five-way Illinois governor primary. We also discussed the three contested Chicago-area Democratic House primaries.

Shortly after our interview, I saw in Capitol Fax — a publication focusing on Illinois politics and government — that Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, who jumped in the June GOP governor primary Monday, sent out an email fundraising appeal focusing on the more than 800 murders in Chicago in 2021.

Lightfoot has a high profile at this mayor’s conference, appearing at the Wednesday kickoff news conference and on panels Wednesday and Thursday.

LIGHTFOOT ON THE DEMOCRATIC HOUSE PRIMARIES

Lightfoot is on the path to making an endorsement in the crowded 1st Congressional District Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Bobby Rush.

She may stay out of the 6th Congressional District battle between incumbents Marie Newman and Sean Casten on suburban turf.

And Lightfoot said she is not sure yet if she will make a move in the open 3rd Congressional District seat — anchored on the city’s North Side — designed to yield the election of a Hispanic House member.

Lightfoot is keeping close tabs on the growing field in the primary to succeed Rush, who will not seek a 16th term. The winner of the primary in the heavily Democratic district will easily clinch in November.

The sprawling district, with a majority Black voting age population, is anchored in parts of Chicago’s South Side — political turf Lightfoot needs to win if she runs for reelection in 2023.

Lightfoot said she has “great interest” in having Rush’s seat filled with a very “strong, passionate advocate” for the city.

“So I’m following that race very closely. You shouldn’t be surprised if I come out and make an endorsement. Because I think that making sure that we’ve got the right person in that seat is going to be really important.”

Lightfoot said “a lot of really good people” are in the race, and “it’s really important that voters are focused on making sure that we’ve got a true champion for the city of Chicago in that seat as Congressman Rush has been over his long career,” Lightfoot said.

Rush, who is also a minister, endorsed Karin Norington-Reaves, the CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce; former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., the first female Black U.S. senator, is backing Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). Jonathan Jackson, mulling a run, would have the support of his father, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Community activist Jahmal Cole has been running for months.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, is circulating petitions for her Senate seat and Congress, and will decide at a later date. Candidates have until mid-March to file petitions.

IRVIN HIGHLIGHTING CHICAGO CRIME IN GOV BID

Irvin is running with the backing of some of the biggest names in the Illinois GOP establishment — and would be the frontrunner the instant billionaire Ken Griffin said he is supporting his bid. Crime is a centerpiece issue for the Aurora mayor.

I asked Lightfoot her reaction to Chicago crime being part of the GOP governor’s race; that’s when she made the point about how vilifying Chicago could be counterproductive.

Going after Democrats on crime is “not just a local Illinois GOP talking point. The National GOP is attacking Democratic mayors. … and they’re continuing to make it look like we don’t know how to run our cities,” she said.

It’s mayors, not governors, who deal most centrally with police and city crime.

Irvin said in his email that when more help to keep his city safe was needed, he “called in the National Guard,” which is technically what a governor — not a mayor — does.

More important, Irvin said, if governor, he would be “removing liberal prosecutors who look to decriminalize acts of violence.” That seems aimed at Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

A governor can’t get rid of an elected official — no matter their politics. What he means is a ripe question for Irvin, who has yet to do interviews with reporters.

Lightfoot said there are “definitely productive ways in which a governor can be helpful. But anybody who thinks that they’re going to solve crime by sitting in Springfield and lobbing bombs obviously doesn’t understand the first thing about public safety.”

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