WASHINGTON — Mayor–elect Lori Lightfoot worked both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday and after an upbeat first meeting with Ivanka Trump, answered — in a productive way — President Donald Trump’s repeated hostile question, “What the hell is going on in Chicago?”
What the hell is going on is that Lightfoot is starting off in this city as a blank slate, eager to forge relations, start a new chapter, etc, a sharp contrast to departing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who as an ex-congressman and White House chief of staff to former President Barack Obama knew everybody and he sort of let you know, everything.
Lightfoot flew here from Chicago and kicked off the first of a three-day visit with a fundraising prospecting meeting, then the White House huddle with Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser as well as a presidential daughter.
After that, Lightfoot, traveling in a two-SUV caravan — a Chevy Tahoe and a Ford Expedition — pulled up to the House side of the Capitol for a series of meetings with top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, the daughter and sister of Baltimore mayors, passed along some helpful tips, Lightfoot said.
“We talked a lot about the need to be present with constituents and to really be providing constituent resources. So you know those are the kinds of things that I get. And again I think she understands Chicago … People want to know who their mayor is, they want to feel like there’s a personal connection and that the mayor is present and visible in communities. And I believe that wholeheartedly. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
There are many corridors in the Capitol, but Lightfoot — this was a meant-to-be thing — by chance passed on the first floor the portrait of Shirley Chisholm, the New Yorker who was the first African American female to serve in Congress and the first African American to seek the presidency.
Chisholm’s 1972 Democratic White House primary slogan was “unbossed and unbought,” a refrain borrowed by Lightfoot in her longshot mayoral bid, history making in its own right when, after her May 20 inauguration, she becomes Chicago’s first African American woman mayor and the first openly gay mayor.
“I thought it was more than a coincidence that the route that I took into this building brought me to this incredible, beautiful and poignant painting,” said Lightfoot, who plans on bringing Chisholm campaign memorabilia to her City Hall office.
Lightfoot’s challenge and this is true for fellow Democrat, freshman Gov. J.B. Pritzker — is to figure out how to squeeze more from the Chicago-bashing Trump while as the same time opposing most of his anti-immigrant, climate-change-denying, anti-Obamacare and at times race based agenda.
Trump and Ivanka both called her after she beat Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, which it seems Lightfoot took as sort of a peace offering.
“Ivanka Trump clearly knows a lot about Chicago. She referenced a couple of local institutions that are doing I think, great work,” Lightfoot said when she met with reporters from Chicago news outlets in the Capitol after her rounds.
Lightfoot, asked for details, said Ivanka was referring to Hope Academy — a small private Christian high school on Chicago’s West Side — and the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago.
The women met for about an hour in Ivanka’s West Wing office with some of her other staffers. The president did not drop by.
“Obviously his values are not my values on a range of different issues,” Lightfoot said.
“But as I said before, Chicago has a lot of great needs. And we should be getting more in federal resources than we’ve gotten historically and if there’s a way for us to partner on issues that are mutually, that we agree upon, like infrastructure, like making sure that we’ve got criminal justice reform, than I’m going to be open to that conversation. I’m not going to compromise my values, but I’m open to it.”
The Trump White House said in a statement the meeting was “a productive and positive meeting covering issues ranging from workforce development and vocational education to economic revitalization.
“They also discussed at length criminal justice and parole reform as well as crime prevention. They look forward to collaborating on these issues when the Mayor-Elect assumes office at the end of the month.”
Emanuel may not disagree with Lightfoot’s goal of getting more from Washington, but it’s worth noting that his expertise in these precincts did help wrangle some jumbo federal competitive grants for Chicago: the Riverwalk, the 95th Street CTA station and other CTA modernization projects. Emanuel in his early years as mayor had the advantage of a Democratic president from Chicago.
I asked Lightfoot what she could do better than Emanuel.
“We’re going to have a very robust Washington office,” she said. Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley both staffed the Chicago office here with experienced government experts, not ward hacks.
“I want to rebuild that resource. I think that that’s going to be helpful. I have personal relationships with people that work on both sides of the chamber so I’m going to be working those relationships as well.
“But I think people, what I’m hearing from people today, and I expect this will be what we hear from others,” is “there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm about this new change and opportunity in Chicago and I think a lot of people want to help me personally but also the city be successful, and we’re going to reach out to every resource that we can make that happen.”
On other matters:
•Lightfoot heads to Southwest Washington on Wednesday night for a fundraiser at Cornerstone Government Affairs, with tickets, according to the invitation obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, ranging from $250 to $5,000.
Lightfoot appears to want to be a player in the 2020 presidential year and a way to do that is to have some campaign cash to spread around.
“Well, we have to make sure that we are building an infrastructure not only to continue the support (of) the things that we think are important; 2020 is going to be a very big year. Chicago is going to play prominently in the local but also the national landscape. And I want to make sure that we have resources to be able to support our friends and people that are going to be aspiring to office all across the country.”
Lightfoot on Wednesday also meets with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
•Lightfoot said she will not be taking sides for now in the third congressional district March Illinois Democratic primary where Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., is being challenged by Marie Newman, who almost defeated him in 2018.
“I’m not going to step into that race at this point. Look I think Marie’s values are probably more in line with mine but I’m not going to take sides, certainly not at this early stage. There’s a lot of water that’s going to travel under the bridge between now and the primary next year,” she said.
•Lightfoot also met with the other House leaders, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C. and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., joined by an early endorser, Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.
Said Kelly, “I want her to meet the leadership. It’s important that the Mayor of Chicago knows the leadership in Washington, D.C.”