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Lightfoot: ‘My responsibility is to be the chief ambassador for our great city’

On Day 2 of her swing through Washington, D.C., Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot met with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. | Lynn Sweet / Sun-Times photo

WASHINGTON — Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot on Day 2 of her swing here hit the White House again, got tips from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, pitched for federal transit dollars, lunched with Congressional Black Caucus members and didn’t patch things up with Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., though both agreed to move on for the good of the city.

Lightfoot is cranked up, ready to take her place among the nation’s biggest-city mayors.

People in power in this town, whether Democratic or Republican, are used to a Chicago mayor whose name they know, be it Richard M. Daley or Rahm Emanuel.

Lightfoot is starting with a low-to-no-profile. She’s hoping to remedy some of that with her three-day visit here.

“In Washington, it’s really a lot about relationships and making sure that you’ve got a message to deliver to folks,” Lightfoot said, talking to reporters from Chicago outlets after she wrapped up her government meetings and was heading to a fundraiser.

“And making sure that you’ve got a message to deliver to folks. And for me and certainly once I’d take office, my responsibility is to be the chief ambassador for our great city and to make sure that people really know the true nature of what’s happening in Chicago and not just screaming headlines that may be tweeted out by a certain someone.”

That certain someone is a reference to the Chicago-bashing President Donald Trump, whose White House Lightfoot visited again Wednesday, following a Tuesday meeting with Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to her father. Trump has focused his tweets and comments on Chicago’s ongoing battle to curb violence.

Lightfoot huddled with Trump aides Brooke Rollins and Ja’Ron Smith with a meeting, the White House said, on — among other items — the critical need to curb violence in distressed communities” and to provide “new opportunities and alternatives to crime.”

After a meeting at the Department of Transportation, laying groundwork for federal transit help — always, always a crucial part of Chicago’s federal agenda — Lightfoot later also met with Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

A centerpiece of the day was the Congressional Black Caucus lunch, a group whose members could be very helpful to Lightfoot.

All four African Americans in the Illinois delegation — all Democrats — attended.

Freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood has no Chicago turf and stayed out the mayoral election.

Walking into the lunch, Underwood said, “It’s just history-making black women from the state of Illinois. And I’m really excited about her leadership.”

Underwood made history as the youngest African American elected to Congress. Lightfoot, once inaugurated May 20, is Chicago’s first female African American mayor and the city’s only openly gay mayor.

Rep. Robin Kelly, an early Lightfoot endorser, was there, as were Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, who backed Lightfoot’s rivals. Davis, going into the lunch, said, “I’m looking forward to working with her. I support her 100 percent.”

The road to rapprochement with Rush, it turned out Wednesday, is going to be more difficult.

Rush, who supported rival Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the runoff, used racially-incendiary language in attacking Lightfoot, saying “the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police” would be on the hands of Lightfoot voters if she won the election.

Rush told reporters as he was walking into the lunch that he had not spoken with Lightfoot since the election. “The campaign is over. I wish the mayor well. I would be so overjoyed, very much overjoyed, if she became the best and most successful mayor that Chicago’s ever had. It would really make my heart glad.”

Reporters pressed Rush, a minister who on Wednesday was wearing his clerical collar, on if he owed Lightfoot an apology.

“If she asks me to do it, then we’ll discuss it,” Rush said, leaving the potential of a real reconciliation for another time.

Lightfoot walked out of the CBC lunch moments later and was asked about what Rush said.

“What I want to do is make sure I focus on moving Chicago forward … and focus on the future.” Chicago “has a lot of wounds that need to heal, and I want to do everything I can to be true to the mandate I was given in the election.”

Lightfoot then headed to D.C.’s City Hall to get some tips from Mayor Bowser, one of a small number of female African American big-city mayors.

Said Bowser, “I was elected in 2015 and there were even fewer African American women who were leading major American cities.” Now their ranks include the mayors of, to just name a few cities, San Francisco, Atlanta and Charlotte.

And in a few days, Chicago.