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Lightfoot hints strongly that she won’t re-appoint Inspector General Joe Ferguson

‘“He’s to be commended for the really good and hard work that he and his team have done on investigations,” the mayor said. “But ... I’m somebody who favors terms limits. And I don’t think people should stay in office indefinitely.”

Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson speaks at a news conference in April 2019 at City Hall.
Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson speaks at a news conference in April 2019 at City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot hinted strongly Thursday she would not reappoint Joe Ferguson when the inspector general’s term expires next year.

“Joe Ferguson has been in office for a really long time. … He’s to be commended for the really good and hard work that he and his team have done on investigations, but particularly on the auditing work. But you know I’m somebody who favors term limits. And I don’t think people should stay in office indefinitely. I don’t think it’s good for them. And I don’t think it’s good for the organization that they lead,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times.

“August, when his term is up, feels like a thousand years from now. There’s a lot that will happen between now and then. And we’ll have a conversation with Joe and obviously commemorate and highlight the good work that’s been done over his tenure as IG. But, that’s not a priority consideration for me right now.”

Ferguson, who served together with Lightfoot in the U.S. attorney’s office, could not be reached for comment.

When he was appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2009 to replace departing Inspector General David Hoffman, Lightfoot was among those who vouched for and recommended her friend Ferguson.

That close relationship raised questions about just how independent Ferguson would be in a Lightfoot administration.

Last year, Ferguson acknowledged such questions were legitimate, that they might become an issue when he starts digging into the Lightfoot administration and that he would “pull the ripcord” if his friendship with the mayor posed a conflict.

Days before taking office, Lightfoot was asked whether she wanted Ferguson to serve out his term. Her answer was an unqualified yes.

“He’s a person of integrity and I know his office is staffed with lots of people who are professionals and they’re gonna do their job. They’re gonna call balls and strikes,” she said.

Since then, however, there has been tension behind the scenes, as there almost always is between a mayor and his or her watchdog. So much so that sources said the two old friends haven’t talked for months.

Among other things, Ferguson has continued to sound the alarm about police overtime, firefighter perks and the Lightfoot administration’s failure to comply with 70% of the requirements in the consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.

Despite media demands to make it public, Lightfoot decided not to release Ferguson’s final report on the Oct. 17, 2019, drinking-and-driving incident that got former CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson fired.

Lightfoot has argued the ordinance she pushed through the City Council last fall empowers Chicago’s corporation counsel to release Ferguson’s reports only when they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”

She also accused him of taking too long to complete the final report into the alleged police cover-up of the Johnson incident, even though the report was in the Law Department’s hands within weeks of her complaint.

Ferguson spent two years in a cold war with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Their legal battle over access to documents went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Their relationship was so frosty it appeared Emanuel was counting the days until Ferguson’s term expired. Only after the Ohio bribery scandal culminated in the conviction of former City Comptroller Amer Ahmad did Emanuel seem to realize Ferguson was more helpful than threatening.

After that, Ferguson was re-appointed twice, with his powers and budget expanding exponentially.

Stay tuned on Johnson lawsuit, mayor says

Also, Lightfoot argued there is a lot yet to be revealed about the romantic relationship between Johnson and former driver Cynthia Donald that will “put in a very different light” the salacious claims Donald made in her lawsuit against the city and Johnson.

Donald has claimed Johnson raped her repeatedly in his office at police headquarters and subjected her to more than three years of sexual assault and harassment.

As for Johnson, Lightfoot said the “lies” he told about the drinking and driving incident and what has emerged since about his relationship with Donald makes Emanuel’s decision to bend the rules to appoint Johnson all the more outrageous.

“The decision is the mayor’s decision, which means you own it,” she said.

“There’s a lot that we learned that led up to my decision to terminate Eddie Johnson. There’s a lot that’s been learned since about leadership, about values, about culture. And I’m assuming at some point, many of those stories will actually come into the public view.”