Lori Lightfoot says she offers a progressive vision for the city. On Thursday, she formally announced her campaign to take on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the man who originally hired her – first to chair the Chicago Police Board, and then to head up the Police Accountability Task Force.
She says it’s not personal, but she’s disillusioned with the direction the city is going on crime, finances and schools.
Lightfoot – who is openly gay – stepped out Thursday with her longtime partner and their young daughter. She spoke of a need to have a respectful engagement with citizens, and to end us-versus-them, winner-take-all politics. She also shared a disdain for what she feels is an administration that governs by top-down dictates, and says she’s most motivated by the stark differences in the city between downtown and the South and West sides.
“If you live in the Loop, your life expectancy is 85 years,” Lightfoot said. “But if you go a few train rides west, your life expectancy plummets to 69 years, a figure we haven’t seen since the 1960s. We can fix that problem, but the city of Chicago must be a catalyst for change and a convener of folks whose lives are most impacted and need an advocate on their side.”
Lightfoot is currently a partner in the high-powered law firm Mayer Brown. In 2015, Emanuel appointed her head of the Chicago Police Board, a position she stepped down from earlier this week.
She spent two years as head of the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards under Mayor Richard M. Daley – the office that would later be renamed IPRA and then COPA. OPS was much maligned for its poor track record on finding any guilt in police misconduct cases. She is also a former federal prosecutor who was a finalist for the U.S. attorney position that ultimately went to Zachary Fardon.
Lightfoot was appointed by Emanuel to lead the Task force on Police Accountability after the fallout from the Laquan McDonald scandal. That task force came up with many recommendations to improve transparency and accountability of police officers. And she says part of the reason she’s running is to complete that task where she feels the mayor has fallen short.
“While we have made incremental progress on police accountability and reform, the progress has been way too slow, and we still have yet to implement some of the essential recommendations identified by the Police Accountability Task Force and the Department of Justice,” Lightfoot said. “We must do better than letting 80 percent of homicides go unsolved. This is one of the biggest reasons why we need broad and real civilian oversight like Los Angeles and other cities.”
In her rollout speech Thursday, Lightfoot spoke mainly in broad strokes, saying she wanted to listen to the community, and she repeated an oft-used phrase by Emanuel: “We can and must do better.”
Lightfoot says she supports an elected school board, and that Emanuel has not been able to get city finances under control.
“I will follow the recommendation of the city’s inspector general and hire and empower a risk manager for the city so that someone is paying attention to how precious tax dollars are being spent. I will support the shift to a progressive income tax that will provide needed relief to Chicagoans. I will make sure that TIF dollars are used to provide economic development and hope in neighborhoods in need.”
Lightfoot has the potential to mount a significant challenge to Emanuel. She has a lot of high-powered white-collar attorneys in her corner. But she lacks the name recognition in the African-American community that Dorothy Brown and Willie Wilson already have. She also has to shed the baggage that she has long been an insider in city politics, under both Daley and Emanuel, and is now trying to run as a change agent.
“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,” said Emanuel’s campaign spokesman Pete Giangreco.
On Monday, Lightfoot will appear for an extended interview on “Chicago Tonight.”
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz