Boxed in by the politics of police reform, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday he plans to re-appoint outspoken Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.
The mayor tried to maintain the upper hand in their contentious relationship by attaching strings to the re-appointment after a no-holds-barred meeting this week that was his first with Lightfoot in 16 months.
“There are things in the Justice Department report about the police board. I wanted to make sure she was on task in making all those necessary changes,” the mayor said.
The mayor also noted that the police board’s annual report was not completed on time and, instead, combined with the 2016 report.
“I wanted to make sure that our annual reports are completed on time, are made public, are transparent with the public,” Emanuel said. “Based on that, we are going to make our re-appointment, but I also want to know that we have a strategy for this coming year to make the changes necessary on the police board consistent with what the Justice Department noted were some of the weaknesses.”
Lightfoot said she assured the mayor during Wednesday’s meeting that all of his concerns had already been addressed.
“There were one or two issues that the DOJ frankly just got wrong about the Police Board. But to the extent that we could address the DOJ recommendations, we did and those were taken care of this previous spring. And our annual report has been up and available to the public for weeks, if not months,” she said. “And that’s that. Nothing more. Time to move on.”
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said Emanuel had little choice but to re-appoint Lightfoot.
Dumping her would have signaled “that he was unwilling to tolerate dissent and unwilling to implement reforms,” Brookins said.
“She has been very critical, which is why she has gained so much credibility from the activist community, despite the fact that she comes from the U.S. Attorney’s office” and once ran the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, a precursor to the Independent Police Review Authority, the alderman said.
Brookins noted that ousting an outspoken African-American woman would have triggered a political backlash at a time when Emanuel is trying to restore trust among black voters shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“Politically, this was the smartest move for him to make,” Brookins said.
Lightfoot was chosen by the mayor to overhaul a Police Board with a history of reversing the superintendent’s recommendations to terminate accused officers. She has delivered on that promise, but not without clashing with the mayor repeatedly.
Most recently, Lightfoot branded the 70-page memorandum of agreement drafted by Emanuel in hopes of avoiding federal court oversight of the Chicago Police Department a “fundamentally flawed” document.
Sources said Wednesday’s no-holds-barred meeting cleared the air about Lightfoot’s criticisms of the mayor and about her belief that Emanuel’s staff has not always been up front with her.
“We had a full and frank discussion — and it was a dialogue, not a monologue,” Lightfoot said Thursday. “The mayor is a very candid guy and I appreciate his candor. Hopefully, he appreciates my candor and my independence.”
Lightfoot refused to say whether Emanuel had questioned her about whether she had any intention of challenging him in the 2019 race for mayor. But she said, “I would not be seeking re-appointment to this job if I was running for mayor.”