Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mounting staff changes raise questions

Michael Crowley is the latest in a string of top mayoral aides to leave Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff before the midway point of her four-year term.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently introduced an ordinance aimed at tackling childhood obesity.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot changed communications directors before she had even served 100 days in office.

Now, it’s happened again, fueling questions about whether the crisis-filled times coupled with Lightfoot’s abrasive management style might be making it difficult for her to hold onto good people.

Lightfoot’s communications director Michael Crowley abruptly resigned Friday after 18 months on the job. He replaced communications director Marielle Sainvilus, who didn’t last four months.

“You know as well as anyone what an incredible and unprecedented time it’s been and how much all of us . . . pour into this job. There’s a point at which you just need to move on,” Crowley, 40, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve been doing it for 18 months. I’m real proud of everything we’ve done. I just need a minute to catch my breath, to be honest, before I figure out what my next steps are gonna be.” 

Crowley is the latest in a string of top mayoral aides to leave Lightfoot’s staff before the midway point of her four-year term.

In addition to Sainvilus, press secretary Anel Ruiz, chief risk officer Tamika Puckett, deputy mayor for public safety Susan Lee, chief of security Jim Smith, deputy communications director Lauren Huffman, deputy press secretary Pat Mullane and chief engagement officer Juan Carlos Linares are among those who didn’t make it to mid-term.

More recently, Lightfoot fired Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner, her longtime friend and former colleague in the U.S. Attorney’s office, in the fallout from a police raid on the wrong home that forced Anjanette Young to stand naked, humiliated and pleading for more than 40 minutes while male police officers searched her home.

Lightfoot claimed she didn’t know about Flessner’s attempts to block WBBM-TV Channel 2 from airing bodycam video of the raid.

David Greising, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, said the turnover in Lightfoot’s mayor’s office hasn’t quite reached the “revolving door” during former Mayor Jane Byrne’s single term but it’s “part of a pattern.”

Greising said the “big question” about mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot was whether she had the “executive management capability to run a major American city.”

“Sometimes turnover can be good if you have the wrong people in places. But when you see sort of a never-ending round of turnover, it begins to raise questions — either about your judgment about people when you hire them or your management of those people when they’re in the job,” Greising said.

“We just see how she operates in public. Not always owning up to her accountability. Talking about how tough she is on her staff. We have no idea what it’s like to work for her. But we can imagine it’s not easy. And after a while, people are gonna find other opportunities.”

Former independent Ald. Dick Simpson (44th) endorsed Lightfoot and served on her transition team.

But Simpson acknowledged that Lightfoot’s controlling demeanor and her propensity to take things personally, lash out and get even have been evident to Chicago voters from the beginning.

“She does have a tough personality. There have certainly been some conflicts with aldermen and others,” Simpson said.

“The mayor sometimes gets angry and speaks out. The mayor could be more tactful in the way she does things.”

Crowley insisted that Lightfoot’s demanding management style had nothing to do with his departure. He will be replaced by his top deputy, Kate LeFurgy, a former spokesperson for City Clerk Anna Valencia.

“For me, it’s been an absolute honor to work for her,” Crowley said. “She’s a fighter. She fights for what she believes is gonna put Chicago on the best path to a stronger, fairer, more equitable city.”

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