It looks like Mayor Lori Lightfoot has the political wind at her back as she seeks to deliver a police contract that makes it easier to investigate and discipline wayward officers and convince the Illinois General Assembly to require police officers to be licensed.
That’s the bottom line of a new survey by Lightfoot pollster Jason McGrath. It shows the first-year mayor with her highest job approval rating yet at 78%, with nearly two-thirds of those voters — 46% overall — saying they “strongly approve.”
The poll of 500 people who said they likely will vote in November was conducted June 21-23, during what Lightfoot has called a “month of civic uprising” and an outbreak of violence not seen since 2016. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.
• 86% of those surveyed approve of Lightfoot’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the mayor shut down the lakefront, cut off citywide liquor sales — and drove around the city, personally breaking up some large gatherings. She has compared her cautious approach to reopening to slowly turning a dimmer switch.
• 65% approve of her efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department — even though it has missed 70% of the deadlines included in a federal consent decree.
• 75% want to require police officers to “obtain licenses from the state just like other professions like lawyers and doctors.”
• 87% support “changing the police contract so it’s easier to fire officers for violent actions they commit while on duty and holding them criminally liable.”
• 80% want to limit the scope of what police officers are responsible for by expanding the use of mental health professionals, so that armed officers are not automatically called for non-violent incidents.
The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has fueled a nationwide movement to defund local police departments and yank officers out of public schools to free up money for mental health and other services. Lightfoot has, so far, resisted both efforts.
But fresh from a victory in arbitration with police officers that won her the right to accept anonymous complaints, she said this week she is determined to “win” a similar victory over the much larger Fraternal Order of Police representing rank-and-file officers.
Lightfoot’s credibility on that issue is bolstered by the fact that she made her bones in police reform. She is a former Police Board president who once ran CPD’s Office of Professional Standards, the internal equivalent of the now-independent Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
She-co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability which issued a scathing indictment of the CPD that 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” at CPD.
A poll in late May for the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition showed Lightfoot’s favorability rating at 77%, and her job approval rating at 75%. But the Chicago sample of that statewide poll was just 126 people, so it had a higher margin for error: plus-or-minus 8 percentage points.
The more recent poll indicates those results were not a fluke. Lightfoot has hit a personal high and remains in rare air for a big-city mayor who has endured countless controversies during her first year in office, with even bigger problems ahead.
Lightfoot and her hand-picked police superintendent are under fire to stop a surge in violence that is killing and maiming Chicago’s children.
The stay-at-home shutdown triggered by the pandemic has blown a $700 million hole in her precariously-balanced 2020 budget, almost certainly requiring another painful round of tax increases and budget cuts.
“Voters are looking at the work the mayor has done since she took office and they believe she is the right person in this moment to be leading the city of Chicago forward on police reform, fighting the coronavirus and leading the city of Chicago out of several very challenging moments,” said Lightfoot’s political director Dave Mellet.
FOP President John Catanzara has resisted contract reforms and called Lightfoot’s bluff — saying if she’s serious about disciplinary changes, she’ll eliminate the requirement that Chicago police officers live in the city and give them the right to strike. He could not be reached for comment on the poll results.
Mellet insisted the timing of the poll “has nothing to do with sending messages” to the FOP.