Lori Lightfoot, candidate for mayor
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The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Lori Lightfoot submitted the following responses Dec. 23 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Lori E. Lightfoot?
Her political/civic background:
- Chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force (PATF)
- President of the Chicago Police Board
- Interim First Deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services
- Chief of Staff and General Counsel of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC)
- Chief Administrator, the Office of Professional Standards, Chicago Police Department
- Assistant United States Attorney in the criminal division
- Served on the boards of numerous progressive and pro-choice organizations like NARAL Illinois, Better Government Association, ACLU Illinois, the Center for Conflict Resolution, the Center for Wrongful Conviction, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Chicago, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
- Member of the American Constitution Society’s Board of Advisors. I received the Victory Fund’s Debra Shore Leadership Award in 2017.
Her occupation: Attorney. Until May 2018, I was a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown LLP, where I also served as the co-chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Her education: B.A., University of Michigan, with honors; J.D., University of Chicago (full academic scholarship)
Campaign website: lightfootforchicago.com
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Lori Lightfoot: No. I know and believe that pensions are a promise, and I will make sure that current city employees and retirees receive the pensions they have been promised. I am opposed to amending the Illinois Constitution to reduce or diminish pension benefits for current city employees or retirees. Retired public service workers make up the backbone of the middle class in so many of our communities. To derail their retirement security would be devastating to local economies across our city. We have to resolve the pension problem for retirees, current employees, and new employees.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
Lori Lightfoot: For more than two decades Chicagoans have routinely traveled to neighboring cities like Rosemont, Elgin, Joliet, Gary and Hammond to gamble. If people in Chicago want to gamble, then they should be able to gamble in Chicago at a city-owned, land-based casino. Casino gambling has now been a reality in Illinois for decades. I know from my work as a lawyer that the Illinois Gaming Board has created a robust regulatory system to combat many of the problems that could arise from casino gambling.
In thinking about a Chicago casino, it is imperative that the construction of a new casino be used as an economic development tool to benefit people and neighborhoods that have been neglected by city government for far too long, including minority and women owned businesses and individuals on the west and south sides. As mayor, I will ensure these groups are involved at every stage of the process, from the design, planning and construction of the casino to its daily operations. Moreover, I will insist that the casino work with Chicago businesses to create a localized supply-chain for goods and services.
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
Lori Lightfoot: I support legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. We need to make sure that in drafting the authorizing legislation, we are mindful of the experiences of other states where legalization has occurred, like Colorado and Oregon. Furthermore, I support efforts to make sure that minority communities that have been ravaged by the War on Drugs have an opportunity to benefit from legalization in terms of receiving licenses, placement of grow operations and jobs. We also must be diligent and continue the hard work of keeping these drugs out of the hands of our kids.
- A LaSalle Street tax
Lori Lightfoot: Obviously, given the current pension crisis and the structural municipal deficit, additional revenue is going to be necessary in the short term, and intermediate terms. I am open to looking at a range of progressive revenue streams. My core principals in evaluating revenue sources are (1) what are the benefits and risks; (2) who will bear the burden of the revenue source – I want to lessen the burden for low-income and middle class individuals and families who have been hardest hit; and (3) any short term gain is worth the long term implications. The so-called “LaSalle Street” tax gets regular mention as a possible source of revenue. While I agree that higher income individuals like me and businesses must pay their fair share, I also want to be certain that in evaluating revenue options, we do not drive businesses from Chicago or create a disincentive for businesses to invest in our city.
- A commuter tax
Lori Lightfoot: I oppose Bill Daley’s commuter tax proposal. As proposed, the tax could adversely impact the city’s ability to attract new businesses to Chicago. While we must consider making sure that people who live outside the city but who work here pay their fair share, imposing an effective income tax on these workers is not the right way to go. In addition, I am concerned about the impact a commuter tax might have on Chicagoans who work outside the city limits, as surrounding cities could respond in-kind by imposing a commuter tax on non-residents. This would place an unnecessary financial burden on many Chicagoans.
- A property tax increase
Lori Lightfoot: Before city leaders can consider raising property taxes, they first must work with Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi to fix the broken property tax system. As has been widely reported, Joe Berrios, who was endorsed and continues to be embraced by Toni Preckwinkle, oversaw an assessment system that failed to capture increases in the value of commercial and industrial properties. Homeowners, particularly those who are low and middle income, continue to be forced to pay higher property taxes as a result of Berrios’s rigged system. Rahm Emanuel was silent on this grievous wrong, and Toni Preckwinkle consistently excused Berrios and blamed others. I have consistently supported Kaegi’s reform efforts and will continue to press for change as mayor. City leaders cannot ask property owners to pay more until these inequities are fixed.
- A municipal sales tax increase
Lori Lightfoot: I think we have to look at progressive forms of revenue in the first instance before there is a substantive discussion regarding an increase in the municipal sales tax. If I were to explore this option, then I would simultaneously look into other taxes or fees that could be reduced in an effort to offset at least some part of an increase in the municipal sales tax.
- A real estate transfer tax increase
Lori Lightfoot: As set forth in my housing policy, which is available here, I have proposed a graduated real estate transfer tax that would generate between $80 and $150 million annually for building, preserving and rehabilitating housing that is affordable, homelessness prevention efforts and building and operating new city mental health clinics. Under the proposed progressive rate structure, approximately 95% of property transactions would receive a tax cut on the sale of properties. Due to the graduated rate structure, a transaction involving a $250,000 property would result in a $1,000 savings and a $500,000 transaction would result in a $2,000 savings, while a transaction involving a $1 million property would result in approximately the same payment as under the current structure.
- Video gambling
Lori Lightfoot: I am not opposed to video gambling as long as it is properly regulated and regulators are diligent about keeping bad actors from having any involvement with the industry.
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Lori Lightfoot: I support a progressive state income tax.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Lori Lightfoot: The consent decree proposed by the parties has yet to be approved by the federal court. I support a police consent decree because given CPD’s history, it is the only tool currently available to make the systemic reforms necessary, in a responsible time frame, in an environment of review and accountability. However, I have been clear that the draft prepared by the parties needs substantive changes and I have shared the changes that I believe are needed with the parties, and the federal court and they can be found on the campaign website, Lightfootforchicago.com.
I am the only candidate in this race that has a broad depth of experience in dealing with issues related to police excess force and abuse, accountability and reform. My perspective on these issues stems from my roles as a federal prosecutor and the head of the former Office of Professional Standards, in which I made countless recommendations to terminate police officers who failed to properly perform their duties, including in police-involved shootings. More recently, I led the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF), whose report served as the underpinnings for both the Obama DOJ report and recommendations on the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the consent decree. There would be no consent decree without the PATF. I also served as the president of Chicago Police Board, where I held officers accountable for misconduct. Before resigning from the police board to run for mayor, I significantly increased the number of officers that were terminated for serious misconduct or received lengthy suspensions.
My body of work demonstrates my commitment to ensuring that public safety is available to everyone and in every neighborhood, that officers must be held accountable for misconduct and that taxpayers cannot continue to shoulder the burden of unchecked misconduct manifested in settlements, judgments, and attorneys’ fees currently totaling over $500 million in the last seven years.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Lori Lightfoot: I am the only candidate for mayor with a detailed plan for combating the illegal guns that pour into Chicago from neighboring cities and states. Stopping this flow of illegal guns requires a proactive, coordinated response from law enforcement that must be led by the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in coordination with the ATF, FBI, DEA, the CPD and state and county law enforcement, as well as federal counterparts in states like Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi, from which large sources of illegal guns flow. We must target the traffickers, felons in possession and straw purchasers with an effective carrot (social service support and jobs for those who leave the criminal life) and stick (stepped up prosecutions for serious offenders) approach. In addition, the U.S. Attorney’s office must increase the number of illegal gun cases prosecuted in Chicago.
We also must strengthen existing state gun laws, pass legislation regulating gun dealers, and support federal legislation that makes gun trafficking a federal crime. State legislators can strengthen existing laws to discourage straw purchasers and punish traffickers, as well as address problems arising from the failure to report lost or stolen guns, and the governor can sign legislation requiring gun dealers to certify their federal license with the Illinois State Police and take measures to protect against straw purchases. On a federal level, Congress can pass Representative Robin Kelly’s Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would make gun trafficking a federal crime and would increase penalties for straw purchasers.
We also must do more to help CPD, which between 2013 and 2017 seized approximately 7,000 illegal guns annually. This means creating a single office in CPD to track illegal guns and gun arrests across the city, increasing the number of hours CPD’s crime lab is open, the number of firearms examiners and the number of shifts examiners are available to process gun crime evidence. It also means purchasing a $300,000 mobile ballistics laboratory that can be dispatched immediately to shooting scenes and which can process ballistics information in hours, instead of days. (This mobile lab costs less than the average amount CPD spent per day on overtime between 2013 and 2017.)
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Lori Lightfoot: As set forth in my public safety plan, we cannot arrest our way out of our violence problem. Instead, the city and its partners must treat this epidemic of violence as the public health crisis that it is. This means addressing the root causes of violence by revitalizing economically destressed neighborhoods, ensuring access to quality schools in every neighborhood, eliminating food and medical deserts, and providing a pathway to good jobs that pay a living wage. In addition, we must follow the lead of cities like Boston and Oakland and increase the resources devoted to violence interruption techniques so we can stop violence before it happens. Furthermore, the city, philanthropic foundations and local businesses must place more emphasis on, and commit more resources to, organizations across the city that help ease the transition of the thousands of citizens released annually from state and county jails back into society and the workforce. Providing legitimate jobs that pay a living wage is one of the best ways to reduce violence and recidivism and improve our communities.
We also must develop educational programming for our public school students. In 2016, approximately 19% of Chicago’s homicide victims were between the ages of 10 and 19. Chicago Public Schools must develop a K-12 curriculum that teaches about the dangers of guns and gun violence, and how they can work with their communities to end violence. The curriculum should also include sections devoted to conflict resolution, social justice and identifying and treating the trauma that affects so many of today’s elementary and high school students.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system? Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain? What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Lori Lightfoot: I support a freeze on new charter schools. We must hold existing charter schools accountable for educating our children just as we do Chicago Public Schools. We must change the relationship between CPS and charters. Charters play a significant role in the education of our children, but CPS’ approach is often to treat charters like just another vendor. That must change.
My mother was an elected school board member, so I understand the importance of giving parents and stakeholders a real voice in how our children are educated. That is why I support a fully independent, elected school board. I am currently evaluating proposals for electing a school board, including whether candidates should first be required to serve on a Local School Council (LSC).
As mayor, one of the first steps to changing our education priorities is treating parents, teachers, and other important stakeholders as welcome participants in reform. The last seven years has seen opposite perspective and it has done great harm.
I will also follow the lead of other school districts and help create policies and practices that undo the systems and structures that created and perpetuate inequities of opportunity and academic achievement. The first step is to create and adopt an equity policy statement that will act as a north star for CPS staff and students alike. In order to implement the policy, I will convene a district-wide equity council composed of educators who have had equity training and will be charged with ensuring the district complies with the equity policy moving forward.
I believe every child should be able to get a quality education at their neighborhood public school, no matter their race or zip code. I was a public school kid and remember how my school served as a community anchor and a source of pride for my neighborhood. As mayor, I will work with impacted communities to ensure there are safe, Level 1/1+ elementary and high school in every neighborhood, expand high school apprenticeship programs to create pathways to good jobs, create early childhood education zones and provide each school with basic educational support positions like librarians, nurses and social workers.
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Lori Lightfoot: I have spent many years working in support of the immigrant community. For instance, I took on a pro bono case representing a Liberian immigrant who testified in federal court against his principal torturer. More recently, I’ve helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the National Immigrant Justice Center. These issues are very important to me.
I support amending the Welcoming City Ordinance to remove the four exceptions to the general rule not to arrest or hold anyone based solely on an ICE warrant or hold request. As mayor, I would only allow for compliance with valid warrants or court orders that are signed by a judge.
Also, drawing on my background as a federal prosecutor, one of my first priorities would be to meet with the head of ICE in Chicago and the U.S. Attorney’s office to express my views and the city’s position regarding ICE’s politicized role in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
I also support, among other things, efforts to protect undocumented immigrants from unscrupulous businesses that seek to take advantage of a person’s undocumented status, including businesses that commit wage theft, overcharge for services provided to undocumented immigrants, or which do not provide services they have been paid to perform.
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Lori Lightfoot: The city must do more to combat climate change while ensuring that residents have clean air to breathe and safe water to drink no matter where in Chicago they live.
The city can begin by resuming the leadership it lost when Mayor Emanuel disbanded the Environment Department in 2011. The impact of this wrongheaded decision is evident. Companies like General Iron continue to pollute surrounding neighborhoods, and as polluting industries relocate from the north side to the west and south sides, they will expose tens of thousands of residents in mostly minority communities to harmful pollutants, including manganese. The recent disclosures about lead in Chicago’s drinking water, which the city tried to conceal, further show the need for a strong Department of Environment that is committed to expanding the city’s water testing, both in terms of total yearly tests and locations tested, and protecting our drinking water.
In addition to improving the lives of residents, a strong Environment Department will make it easier for Chicago to be a true leader on regional environmental issues, including protecting the water quality of the Great Lakes and protecting Chicago’s rivers and Lake Michigan from invasive species like Asian carp.
As thousands of residents of who regularly dry out their basements after even moderate rainfalls can attest, the city needs to do more to reduce stormwater. We can do this in a number of ways, including working collaboratively with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to end the use of combined sewers, revisiting zoning laws to discourage building from lot line to lot line, which exacerbates run-off, and by encouraging green infrastructure projects.
I am also committed to powering the city’s buildings with 100% renewable energy by 2025. But achieving that must be the first milestone, not the end goal. While the city continues toward meeting that goal, it must simultaneously commit to, and work toward, 100% renewable energy city-wide by 2035.
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Lori Lightfoot: We need to work harder to bridge the geographic and racial divides in our city. I am a big fan of community-based programs like My Block, My Hood, My City; the work that Facing History has promoted in Chicago Public Schools and many other initiatives designed to bridge the divides. As a city government, a key priority must be continuing to focus on breaking down housing segregation by creating more economically diverse neighborhoods.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Lori Lightfoot: Harold Washington. I moved to Chicago in the middle of the second Washington campaign. I have never seen such energy and enthusiasm regarding a political movement. The potential for transformation was incredibly infectious. I also remember quite well the chaos that ensued in the immediate aftermath of his death and how the progress that had been made and promised was quickly vanquished by the machine and petty, parochial interests — across the political spectrum — that extinguished the light that had been lit for a government that was truly responsive to the lives of ordinary Chicagoans. Washington had a vision for a different, more inclusive and equitable Chicago. I very much share that vision.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Lori Lightfoot: I propose two: “City of Scoundrels,” by Gary Krist, and “Coast of Chicago,” the short story collection by Stuart Dybek.
Also running for mayor: