Shaking off the ingrate label, former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot on Thursday used the platform Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave her to hammer him and begin the longshot quest to take his job.
“It’s not about turning on anybody. It’s about saying that our city is going in the wrong direction and that we need to chart a different course,” Lightfoot said to the laughter and applause from her supporters at a downtown hotel.
“I don’t think the mayor gave me anything, OK? So, let’s be clear. I stand here today because of my family, my friends and my hard work. I didn’t get here because somebody gave me anything.”
Emanuel raised Lightfoot’s profile far beyond what it was when she became a finalist for the U.S. Attorney’s job that went to Zach Fardon.
The mayor appointed and re-appointed her as Police Board president and chose Lightfoot to co-chair the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department after the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video laid the groundwork for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same.
By using that platform to hammer the mayor, Lightfoot is committing the “ultimate act of betrayal,” said Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), who has had his differences with Emanuel.
“It’s unconscionable what she’s doing. I’m so furious about this. It’s disloyalty at its best,” Sposato said Thursday.
“When somebody you trust to do a job flips on you, to me, that’s the ultimate betrayal. It’s not something you do in life. It’s almost like she cheated with her brother’s wife. It’s just plain wrong. Garry McCarthy is a different story. He was fired.”
Sposato noted that Lightfoot led the nationwide search for a new police superintendent when McCarthy was fired, only to have Emanuel reject all three names, change the law and choose Eddie Johnson, who hadn’t even applied for the job.
“She botched one of the biggest jobs she had to do — the appointment of a new superintendent. And the botch turned out pretty good for us,” Sposato said.
Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham accused Lightfoot of presiding over a kangaroo court.
“Cases were brought forward in which the officers were clearly innocent of the charges against them. Ms. Lightfoot refused to be fair and just in her rulings in these cases,” Graham said in an emailed statement.
“Now, she wants to be mayor when she cannot handle a few relatively small number of cases … fairly. I have not seen any examples in which Ms. Lightfoot has remained impartial and respectful of police officers. This city needs to stand behind the police and let them do their job. We do not need a mayor who does not stand behind the police.”
Apparently unaware of the FOP’s broadside, Lightfoot offered a counter-argument about a three-year stint on the Police Board that profoundly impacted her thinking.
“Listening to the daughters of Bettie Jones come before the Police Board at a time when they were still deeply grieving the loss of their mother. Rekia Boyd’s brother was a frequent presence. … It’s impossible not to be moved by that,” she said.
“If you don’t’ have empathy for the challenges and the profound pain that those families feel, you can’t stand up here and say, `I want to lead and I want to be your mayor.'”
Thursday’s campaign launch drew a small but enthusiastic crowd of friends and supporters that included former Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey.
In 2005, Dempsey and Lightfoot worked together to clean up the Department of Procurement Services after the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant cloud over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.
Lightfoot vowed to strengthen neighborhood schools, even though her 10-year-old daughter Vivian, who was in attendance, goes to private school.
“When we were looking at pre-schools, we looked at Chicago Public Schools and, essentially, we were told, `No room at the inn.’ It was very difficult to get into a pre-school as a family of means,” Lightfoot said.
“Once she was thriving and developing friendships, my spouse and I thought it made no sense to move her at that point. Every parent has to make decisions that are best for their kids. Lots of folks across the city rely upon and need good quality public education. Which is exactly why a focus for me … is building up neighborhood schools.”
And that will start with stability at the top, Lightfoot said.
“Five CEO’s in seven years—one who was a criminal—and the awarding of contracts to vendors who do not deliver and leave our schools filthy and unsafe. That is not leadership,” she said.
Lightfoot declared her support for a progressive income tax and opposition to a city income tax. But she offered no revenue ideas of her own beyond a promise to overhaul an avalanche of tax increases by Emanuel that, she claims, punish working people and drive them out of the city.
She also supports an elected school board, like the one her mother served on for 25 years, and sided with South Side residents who have demanded an ironclad community benefits agreement before final approval of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
The surprise of the day — and the award for line or two of the day — went to Ra Joy, running mate of failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy.
Joy has publicly flirted with the idea of running for mayor himself, but showed up instead to introduce Lightfoot.
On Thursday, Joy called Lightfoot Chicago’s best hope for ending what he called Emanuel’s “Game of Thrones-style” of government where winners and losers are chosen behind closed doors at the mayor’s whim.
“I believe deeply that we’re in a movement moment in Chicago where change is absolutely possible and urgently needed,” Joy said.
Emanuel’s spokesman Peter Giangreco issued an emailed statement in response to Lightfoot’s announcement.
“While all of these candidates try to figure out a path to get into the runoff that already have them attacking one another, the mayor is focused on the best path forward for Chicago with safer streets, expanding summer jobs opportunities for youth and bringing more good jobs to Chicago,” Giangreco said.