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Lightfoot shrugs off travel criticism: ‘From time to time I’m going to leave town’

“We’re a global city,” Lightfoot said. “From time to time I’m going to leave town to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to raise Chicago’s profile, to form relationships with people and institutions that are going to inure to the benefit of residents in Chicago.”  

New York first lady Chirlane McCray, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman
Left to right: New York first lady Chirlane McCray, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman at Gracie Mansion on Tuesday.
Photo courtesy of Lightfoot administration

NEW YORK — Mayor Lori Lightfoot met Mayor Bill de Blasio at Gracie Mansion; huddled with a top deputy at NYPD headquarters; did political fundraising and defended her travel, telling me on Tuesday, “from time to time, I’m going to leave town.”

And if that is a problem for you, “so be it,” she said.

Lightfoot arrived in Manhattan on Sunday night and will return to Chicago on Tuesday evening.

Since taking office on May 20, Lightfoot traveled to Los Angeles, and Palm Springs in one swing and now New York. Shortly before her inauguration, she hit Washington. The trips combined political fundraising or prospecting with potential donors and official city business.

Added to that, while away she dined with Oprah Winfrey in California and taped “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in New York — her segment is scheduled to be telecast on Thursday — with all the combined activity earning her some critical press, including in an analysis in the Chicago Sun-Times.

When I caught up with Lightfoot at a coffee shop at 27th and Madison after her Gracie Mansion visit — New York mayors have an official residence — I asked her about de Blasio, who is running for president, and if the travel was a mistake.

Lightfoot said she hoped to use de Blasio “and his team as a resource for us as we take on some of the issues that he took on in the first six years of his term as mayor.”

She was very non-committal when it came to de Blasio’s longshot 2020 bid. “I wished him well. But there is, as you know, a massive field.”

Lightfoot sees some travel as part of her job.

“We’re a global city,” Lightfoot said. “From time to time I’m going to leave town to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to raise Chicago’s profile, to form relationships with people and institutions that are going to inure to the benefit of residents in Chicago.

“And you know, that’s just going to happen. And if people have a problem with that that, I’m sorry but I’m going to do that. That is, part of my responsibility is to be a fierce advocate for the city of Chicago and the residents of my city, everywhere. And that means forming relationships, and sometimes relationships can’t be formed by telephone. They actually have to be face-to-face and across a beverage or a meal. And that’s what I’m going to do. And if people look askance at that, so be it.”

The most important part of her New York visit in my view was her meeting on Monday with JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Chase, besides holding a lot of Chicago debt, is putting some $50 million in programs to bolster the economies in the South and West Sides.

“And you know, I’m still a novelty to some people across the country, and I think it’s important for me, as a mayor of Chicago, as the chief advocate and ambassador for the city to let people know what we’re doing and to get to know me.

“So I met with Jamie Dimon, who’s one of the most important business people on the planet. Chase has a big footprint in Chicago. … So for me not to get to know him given the importance of Chase to the city both in terms of our financial relationship with them — but also they employ a lot of people in the city of Chicago. They’re deeply investing from their foundation and charitable work. It’s a no-brainer that I would meet with somebody like him.”

I think it’s way too soon to make any call about Lightfoot’s travel. Since Lightfoot sort of jumped out of nowhere to become mayor of Chicago, I have a tolerant view of her wanting to introduce herself to political and government players.

Two trips is not gallivanting. I’m not sure how many equal gallivanting, but two is just not enough.

But it is not too soon for Lightfoot to make a pledge to have her political shop put out a public schedule of her political activities and to open her fundraisers to a press pool.

Lightfoot’s team is going to lengths to separate political and government activities — that’s how it should be.

To put together my coverage for this trip, I ping ponged between Anel Ruiz, her government press secretary and David Mellet, who oversees the Lightfoot political operation. I still had to sleuth around on my own to fill out the picture about Lightfoot’s New York fund-raising.

Said Lightfoot, “I’m hearing what you’re saying, and I’ll certainly confer with my team.”