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Lightfoot tries to put hot mic controversy to rest

The national president of the Fraternal Order of Police has demanded the mayor apologize and hammer out a new police contract. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said it’s “more important that we get it right than move quickly.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a Chicago City Council meeting in June 2019.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday tried to put an end to her controversy over her referring to a police union official as a “FOP clown.”
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday she’s said all she intends to say about being caught on an open mic calling the second vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police “this FOP clown” and will not be rushed into negotiating a police contract.

National FOP President Chuck Canterbury has demanded that Lightfoot apologize to rank-and-file Chicago police officers and “conduct herself with more dignity and less immaturity.”

Canterbury contended if Lightfoot is “truly sorry, she needs to do something to improve her relationship” by bargaining “in good faith” with the officers, whose union contract expired more than two years ago.

The mayor was asked Friday about the controversy of her own making at this week’s City Council meeting that overshadowed her two legislative victories on ethics reform and predictable scheduling for low-wage workers.

“There’s no more to say about that. I said what I said the other day. It’s something I shouldn’t have said out loud. And I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry,” the mayor said at an unrelated news conference.

As for the police contract that’s likely headed to arbitration, Lightfoot said she’s negotiating with “all the police unions — not just the FOP, but the supervisors’ unions” as well.

“We’re trying to move those along expeditiously as possible. There’s a lot of issues. There’s issues around compensation, of course. But also issues around what we’re calling accountability measures,” she said.

“We’re working on both of those things to make the negotiations move forward as expeditiously as possible. But it’s more important that we get it right than move quickly.”

Although Lightfoot wants to put the controversy behind her, the Chicago FOP is trying to keep it alive in an email to all 50 aldermen.

“As you are no doubt aware, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made a contemptuous remark to a 30-year veteran police officer and the Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Police...The mayor’s comments and refusal to apologize has portrayed our city in a poor light to the rest of the country,” the FOP’s field representative Robert Bartlett wrote.

“Now, more than ever, the city and the police should be working together to address the chronic violence that plagues our city. The mayor’s conduct…has intensified that divide. We hope that, as an elected member of the City Council, you will show the proper respect to Chicago’s finest by asking the Mayor to formally apologize so that we may move forward.”

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel punted the high-stakes negotiations with the police union to Lightfoot, apparently unwilling to tackle the thorny issue of police discipline.

Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department prompted the U.S. Justice Department to do the same after a federal investigation triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The task force demanded changes to a police contract that, it claimed, “codifies the code of silence” that Emanuel famously acknowledged exists at CPD.

The City Council’s Black Caucus has threatened to hold up ratification of any police contract that continues to make it “easy for officers to lie” by giving them 24 hours before providing a statement after a shooting and includes “impediments to accountability” that prohibit anonymous complaints, allow officers to change statements after reviewing video and requires sworn affidavits.

Chicago FOP President Kevin Graham has slammed the door on all of those changes, putting the union and the new mayor on a collision course.

He wants to triple the waiting period to 72 hours, which is the period granted federal agents after a shooting. And Graham remains adamantly opposed to allowing anonymous complaints against officers.

After a cold war that featured six mayoral cancellations, Graham and Lightfoot broke the ice last month at their first extended face-to-face meeting. Both sides came away determined to rebuild their frayed relationship — until this week’s open mic controversy rubbed salt into the wound.

During an interview Thursday night on the WTTW-TV program “Chicago Tonight,” Lightfoot was asked again whether she’s sorry she made the clown comment or just sorry she got caught saying it?

“Look, the FOP and I have a long history,” Lightfoot said, apparently referring to past tensions. “And I’ve committed to President Graham that we’re gonna work cooperatively together.”

Contributing: Andy Grimm