O’Shea won’t reprise 2019 endorsement of Lightfoot: ‘I’d have a civil war on my hands’

Four years ago, candidate Lori Lightfoot got a huge boost from Ald. Matt O’Shea’s endorsement in the mayoral runoff election against Toni Preckwinkle. It won’t happen this year, O’Shea told the Sun-Times on Thursday.

SHARE O’Shea won’t reprise 2019 endorsement of Lightfoot: ‘I’d have a civil war on my hands’
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) during a City Council meeting at City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday morning, October 27, 2021.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) at a Chicago City Council meeting in October 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), whose endorsement of candidate Lori Lightfoot in the 2019 runoff election was pivotal to her landslide victory, said Thursday he will make no mayoral endorsement this time because he’d “have a civil war on my hands” if he backed Lightfoot again.

“The senseless violence is so pervasive across the city. And for people to say things like, ‘Murders are down’ [is insulting]. We’re a world-class city. I don’t know if we are anymore based on where we’re headed,” O’Shea said.

“I’ve been very disappointed. My disappointment is the fact that public safety is compromised in this city. Crime is up. Perception of crime is up. Bad guys are winning.” 

Four years ago, Lightfoot’s effort to expand her base beyond the North Side and north lakefront into white ethnic neighborhoods dominated by police officers and firefighters took a giant step forward, courtesy of O’Shea.

In Round One of the mayoral sweepstakes, the 19th Ward had led the city with a 55.8% turnout — 20 percentage points higher than the city overall.

Mayoral challenger Jerry Joyce had captured that ward — where he lives — with 9,098 votes. Lightfoot finished fourth, with 1,702 votes.

But with O’Shea’s endorsement in Round Two, Lightfoot tallied 15,931 votes in the ward, to just 2,961 votes for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. It was Lightfoot’s highest vote total in any ward, on her way to sweeping all 50. 

At the time, O’Shea called Lightfoot a “straight-shooter,” praising her “candor” and “more transparent” approach. 

“I love her strength in attacking this corruption issue we have. I like her experience as a former federal prosecutor. Her no-nonsense style. It’s sorely needed,” O’Shea said the day of his endorsement.

“I talked to many people in law enforcement — at the federal and local level — who’ve had working relationships with her going back many years who have told me that’s who Lori is.”

What a difference a first term makes.

Now, many Chicago police officers — and their loved ones — who fill O’Shea’s Southwest Side ward are livid at Lightfoot for the relentless string of canceled days off. The abrupt cancelations are blamed for a troubling spike in police suicides and a mass exodus of their surviving colleagues. 

The Chicago Police Department now has 1,700 fewer officers than it did before Lightfoot took office.

O’Shea is so concerned about the mental health of CPD officers, he introduced an ordinance at Wednesday’s council meeting that would guarantee officers at least 24 hours of consecutive rest for every 60 hours they work. That’s one day off a week to decompress.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) addresses reporters outside the Thompson Center on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. 

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) and other Chicago City Council members held a news conference outside the Thompson Center on Wednesday to promote efforts to protect the mental well-being of Chicago police officers, including an ordinance that would allow officers to decline excess hours.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

In response to O’Shea’s ordinance — and other proposals to empower them to decline excessive overtime and compensate those who accept — Lightfoot said it is not “appropriate for the City Council to be setting personnel rules and policies” for the Chicago Police Department.

O’Shea is the mayor’s hand-picked chairman of the City Council’s Aviation Committee.

He views Lightfoot’s cavalier responsive to the crisis facing CPD officers as the latest evidence of her dictatorial, my-way-or-the-highway attitude. 

“If our mayor isn’t successful, the city isn’t successful. We want our mayor to be successful. We want our mayor to lead the city. We need to partner and work on these issues. And we have many, many issues across our city. And, for whatever reason, time after time, we can’t get partnership. I don’t know why that is. I’ve extended myself,” O’Shea said.

“And now, my residents are furious. They’re just beside themselves in frustration and anger. Taxes are going up. Crimes are going up. … The senseless violence is so pervasive across the city.”

O’Shea acknowledged his decision to steer clear of Lightfoot in the 2023 mayoral race is, in part, about political self-preservation.

What does he think would happen if he reprised his 2019 endorsement?

“I’d have a civil war on my hands,” he said.

Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor and Police Board president who also chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability appointed by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video. 

Policing issues had appeared to be Lightfoot’s strong suit.

“I was really excited — as a former federal prosecutor, as someone who had worked with the Police Department on a lot of things. She said all the right things. We talked at length about investing in our schools and offering more support for our police officers. But it’s been slow. There hasn’t been the progress that is needed,” O’Shea said.

“Every day you wake up, you read about another horrible crime that happened somewhere, 1,700 less police officers. We’ve got to get this thing turned around. We’ve got to get the pendulum to start swinging back the other way.”

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