A defiant and emotional Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday she plans to stick with retired deputy U.S. marshal James Smith as commander of her bodyguard detail no matter how vehemently the Fraternal Order of Police opposes the idea.
During a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Lightfoot said she can’t understand why there has been “a lot of ink spilled” about her selection of Smith when his background and experience make him supremely qualified for the job.
“I find it interesting that a guy who has protected Supreme Court justices, high-ranking federal judges and has a record of accomplishment and service as a former U.S. marshal is somebody who is the object of fascination,” the mayor said.
“But I’m comfortable with Jim Smith. He’s gonna be the leader of that detail. He has protected me personally from things that have happened along the way. And there is nothing more valuable to me than making sure that, when I leave, I get to come home to my wife and my child and that they are protected. So, if you’ve got a problem with that, that’s my priority.”
The impassioned defense of Smith was greeted by enthusiastic applause from her sympathetic City Club audience.
Lightfoot’s decision to hire James Smith to run the security detail now charged with protecting the new mayor, her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their 11-year-old daughter, Vivian, has angered the Fraternal Order of Police.
FOP President Kevin Graham has said the mayor’s detail has been the exclusive purview of Chicago Police officers “for as long as anyone can remember … and we at the FOP intend to keep it that way.”
Last week, Lightfoot sloughed off the possibility that the police union may file a grievance aimed at blocking the move. She said the FOP is “never happy,” adding, “How is this different than any other day?”
On Tuesday, Lightfoot pointed to the seven recent suicides of Chicago Police officers and offered some advice to Graham, who wants to start negotiating the new police contract that Rahm Emanuel punted but has slammed the door on disciplinary changes outlined in the federal consent decree.
“I said this to Kevin Graham and I’ll say it here publicly: Rather than focusing on [saying] no, focus on bringing resources and support to our officers so that they can get what they need to be able to be successful.
“If they’re not, it shows up on the street. It shows up … in literally the millions of interactions on a yearly basis that we will never see but will directly affect the community’s perception and embrace of our Police Department. We have to do better by our young officers, just as we have to do better by our young people in those communities that are under siege.”