Lori Lightfoot, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who for three years headed up the Chicago Police Board, announced her candidacy challenging incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel on May 10. Should Lightfoot win, she'd be both Chicago's first female Black mayor as well as the city's first openly gay one.
Lightfoot faces many challenges should she run. She said at a May 11 talk for the LGBT community that she expects Emanuel, who first appointed her to the Board in 2015, to be up for a fight. She's also entering a crowded field of candidates also hoping to unseat Emanuel from his post.
After the talk, Lightfoot spoke with Windy City Times about why she entered the race, LGBT issues and her time on the Police Board.
Windy City Times: What work does Chicago's mayor need to do on behalf of the LGBT community, and why do you think you're the right person for the job?
Lori Lightfoot: In my my lifetime, we've made meteoric progress in some ways. When I was going through my own coming out progress in my mid- to late-twenties, I was preparing for worst-case scenarios. I was wondering whether my family would reject me. My family was very religious, in church every Wednesday night for Bible study and every Sunday morning. That's what I grew up with. I was very concerned with how they'd react to my coming out. … Back then, it was very commonplace for people to make homophobic jokes all the time, and people would laugh. … The fact that I am an openly gay candidate for mayor, with my wife and my child [at my side], is pretty amazing in a number of regards.
But I'm very mindful of the fact that despite the hard workand blood, sweat and tearsof many people, our community still has a number of different challenges. There are still kids who are being thrown out of their homes because of who they love, and they wind up out on the street. There are still places that discriminate in housing and in employment opportunities, so we have to make sure that we speak with a very clear voice on those issues, and, frankly make sure that anyone who does business with the city abides by our anti-discrimination and human rights codesthat has to happen.
But I think we also need to expand that, and really use the city as a real catalyst for change. One challenge is for affordable housingnot just for our homeless, not just for our youth, but also on the other end of life. Many of our seniors are looking at their options and want to stay in their communities. That's not just a problem for the LGBTQ community, but many of our communities across the board. So we have to understand what those communities still are. Healthcare [also] still is a problem. Mental health resources are still a problem. We have to be respectful of the unique circumstances facing the LGBTQ community.
Many of the issues that we see there are issues in the straight world as well, so we need to make sure that we are clearly inviting [LGBT] people to the table and are sensitive to the issues of the community. There's a lot that a mayor can do to improve the quality of life and make sure that city resources are only being used in a way that speaks to our values.
WCT: To focus on one aspect of that, the transgender community is faced by many of these challenges, but to a higher degree. Again, what are the mayor's responsibilities to them?
LL: I'm particularly concerned about the violence against the transgender community. We have to shine a light on that so that we can realize that it is happening, then we have to bring policies there to address it. I have a lot of respect for [Police] Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson. We have a great working relationship, but I've told him that we need to have more than one liaison to the LGBTQ community. If we're focusing on those issues, and working at a grassroots level, a mayor can do a lot to bring about change. We need to hear and see people. That's sounds like a simple thing, but if we're not mindful of those challenges and struggles, we're not going to craft policies that are addressing those needs.
WCT: How would you address criticism that the Police Board's work did not go far enough when you were heading it up? When word of your candidacy was imminent, one commentator on social media said, "She never fired a killer cop" and said that, at public meetings, you "coldly told people to watch their tone," and "punished people for going over their allotted time."
LL: Under my leadership, the police board have probably fired more police officers than any other three-year period of time beforehand. When I came into the Police Board, the level of concurrence with the superintendent was about 35 percent. So frankly the board wasn't firing anybody. The facts really matter. One of the amazing phenomena with my experience on the police board is that we have to take a public vote. We meet in executive session, but we have to take a public vote in every single case that comes before us where we've rendered a judgement. … All I would say is, look at the record. Look at the actual facts. As the Police Board, we're a court. We're not advocates for one person or another. I had my 'advocacy life,' and think I spoke very specifically and pointedly about the things I care about, [including] making sure that we are respectful of the victims of crime.
WCT: What are your thoughts on Chicago's status as a sanctuary city?
LL: We have to do everything that we can to support families here in Chicago. Not just say that we are a welcoming city, but be a welcoming city. … As a former prosecutor, I would be meeting with the heads of ICE to say, "Not in our city. You are not going to picking people up when they are dropping their kids off at school, and ripping them from their families." I would not hesitate to speak out against the immorality of those practices. But I think the other thing that we must do is endure that, just like other citizens, our immigrant community has the opportunity to participate in the best this city has to offer. That's why I say that the message of "a new progressive course" will resonate [with] a lot of different communities. I'm not just going to say it. I'm going to put it into practice.
See lightfootforchicago.com/ .