Lightfoot ‘done with electoral politics for myself’ after Feb. 28 defeat

Lightfoot is the first elected Chicago mayor in 40 years to be denied a second term. The last mayor to suffer that indignity was Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first and only other female mayor.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets at her election-night gathering at the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council in River North on Feb. 28, 2023.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot greets at her election-night gathering at the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council in River North on Feb. 28.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’s “done with electoral politics for myself” and believes she lost, in part, because it was “hard to break through the anger bubble” caused by the pandemic and civil unrest triggered by the murder of George Floyd.

Since finishing third Feb. 28 in the first round of mayoral balloting, Lightfoot, 60, had avoided post-mortem media interviews.

That changed — a little — last week.

Angered by what she apparently views as unfair coverage and an inordinate focus on her combative management style, Lightfoot has done just three exit interviews: with WBBM-AM Radio political editor Craig Dellimore, ABC-7 reporter Craig Wall and Politico’s Shia Kapos.

The rest of the City Hall press corps was frozen out, including the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.

During the interview with Wall, the lame-duck mayor declared the bitter taste of defeat and her turbulent, four-year term has soured her on ever seeking elective office again.

“I don’t see myself running again for any office...Politics is a part of everyday life. But, I’m done with electoral politics for myself,” she told Wall.

Lightfoot is the first elected Chicago mayor in 40 years to be denied a second term. The last to suffer that indignity was Jane Byrne, Chicago’s first female mayor.

Pressed to pinpoint anything that might have changed the outcome, Lightfoot told Wall: “Three-to-four thousand more votes across Black Chicago. That’s a difference-maker.”

She pivoted to the bad hand she was dealt: the pandemic; civil unrest and looting after Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police and the violent crime wave following those demonstrations.

“There’s a lot of anger, frustration and fear that is present, not only in Chicago, but across our country. And the winds of dissension continue to blow at a furious pace,” Lightfoot said. “So for me, the biggest challenge wasn’t some particular person’s name on the ballot. The biggest challenge was breaking through what I call that ‘anger bubble.’”

Lightfoot expounded on that in her 30-minute interview with Dellimore.

Public safety “is the priority of any mayor anywhere,” she argued, and “every single mayor that I know” was “grappling with this challenge.”

What’s different in Chicago? The media.

“The 24-hour news cycle and the sensationalization of every issue didn’t help. The fact that we made progress — meaningful progress — in homicides, shooting and carjackings over the course of last year and that most residents of the city don’t know it because that wasn’t something that the media reported,” she said.

Lightfoot never mentioned David Brown, the now-former Chicago Police Department superintendent she lured from Dallas and stubbornly stuck with, even as every mayoral challenger vowed to fire him.

She did say the media’s hyper-focus on her combative management style was downright ludicrous.

“The media made it an issue way before [the mayoral campaign]. The campaign seized upon the narrative that was created by the media,” she said.

“Look, I’m a Black, queer woman. I have always known my entire adult life that there is a different set of rules and standards by which I’m gonna be judged. That is not a surprise. And the obsession with, ‘Is she nice? Is she not nice?’ following Daley and Rahm Emanuel is, frankly, laughable. But I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to play the cards you are dealt and that’s what I did.”

Lightfoot said she’s leaving with her “head held high,” knowing she made the “tough, but necessary decisions in some of the most difficult, challenging circumstances that any mayor in the history of the city has faced.”

She can only hope her successor, Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson, will build on the progress she has made in Chicago’s 15 most violent police beats and continue Invest South/West, her signature initiative to help long-neglected areas.

“My goal always was not to put temporary Band-Aids on a big challenge and problem like public safety” that were “decades in the making,” she said.

“What I wanted to do is bring lasting peace.”

Brown announced his resignation the day after Lightfoot’s defeat and returned to Dallas a few weeks later. Interim Supt. Eric Carter will follow Brown out the door on May 15, inauguration day for Johnson and the new City Council.

During the interview with Dellimore, Lightfoot talked about how important it is for Johnson to choose wisely — first in selecting an interim superintendent, then by choosing from the three finalists due to be forwarded to him July 14 by the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.

“We are going into a critical time period,” she said.

Johnson must “work together with the police department. Absolutely, he’s got to hold them accountable. But he cannot afford to lose the department and the officers over the course of this summer,” she told Dellimore.

Lightfoot also put in a good word for Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who led Chicago through the pandemic and is campaigning to keep her job under Johnson.

“In my view, Dr. Allison Arwady is a hero, the likes of which we haven’t seen in Chicago in a long time. ... She fought through a lot of noise nationally and a growing chorus here locally to make sure that she gave me the best possible advice to save peoples’ lives,” the mayor said.

“There are people that are walking in Chicago today who would not have been alive, but for the work of Allison Arwady and her colleagues at the Department of Public Health.”

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