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Lori Lightfoot discusses first month on the job
by Matt Simonette
2019-06-26

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After about a month on the job, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is settling into her new job on City Hall's fifth floor.

Never before has a Pride-month celebration been so important for the city's mayor. Lightfoot, Chicago's first Black openly lesbian mayor, will be grand marshal in the Pride parade on June 30.

The mayor sat down with Windy City Times to discuss her administration's plans, her thoughts on Pride and how her family is managing her new job.

Windy City Times: How has it been having Pride coincide with your first month on the job?

Lori Lightfoot: It is obviously has taken on a lot of meaning with my being in office, with my being the first LGBTQ+ who's ever been mayor of the city. ... We met earlier today to talk about preparations for the Pride march. My wife and I are very excited about this opportunity.

WCT: Speak a bit about what your main priorities will be for the city's LGBT community in the months ahead.

LL: What I look forward to is executing the issues that we laid out in our LGBTQ+ policy, particularly focused around our youth and the trans members of the community.

WCT: Have you been able to get anything started?

LL: The biggest thing we can do is make sure that we are reaching out to folks and providing for their safety. Fundamentally, you know the statistics—we've a number of unsolved homicides and assaults against trans women in particular. So I want to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to make sure that the police are much more diligent and that we are providing a web of safety, but I think those members of the trans community are particularly vulnerable. We need to be much more diligent there.

We come into office mid-budget cycle, so we're trying to do what we can to give promise to having liaisons to the community—a number of people are doing double-duty. There are a number of out folks in my administration ... but I want to make sure that as, part of the engagement process, there aren't just people serving only the North Side Boystown or Andersonville [areas] but also other parts of the city.

WCT: What can the community expect from your administration in terms of ensuring equity for all parts of the community?

LL: I'm excited that Candace Moore is going to start soon [as the city's chief equity officer]. We announced her early in my administration. She's been following up in divesting herself of her previous employment. She knows and embraces the fact that equity inclusion also includes our community. So I look forward to working with her as she frames out her vision of the community.

But, across all of our deputy mayors and senior staff in the mayor's office, the idea of equity inclusion is going to be a consistent, guiding force. Candace will have a part in framing that and looking at the major initiatives, but it's going to be part of our public engagement—when we look at education and human services—[as well as] economic development. Those themes and realities of equity inclusion are going to be a central part of what we do as an administration.

WCT: What have you done so far on the issue of housing stability?

LL: One [thing] is hire a really good housing commissioner, Marisa Novara. She comes to us from the Metropolitan Planning Council [MPC], where she did a lot of work on equitable housing issues. She was one of the lead authors on the MPC's report on the cost of segregation. She knows that making sure that we are looking creatively at ways we can open up affordable housing options for vast numbers of constituencies and that it's quite important—whether it's seniors, or the members of the Latinx community, who've been particularly hard hit.

Families are having a hard time staying in the city, so she has a very clear mandate from me, as well as the voters to get this right and come up with a housing policy that really starts reverse this trend that we're seeing—which is that people are beginning to feel like they can't afford to live in the city anymore.

WCT: You told WTTW a few weeks back that you've been "pushing" Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in terms of deploying preventative anti-crime measures. How are you going to approach public safety to carry those measures out while making sure that particular populations are not over-policed?

LL: I think that's really important. This is an iterative process, of course, but I think it's important that, one, we have a diverse group of officers that's reflective of the community. We still have a lot of work to do in that area, in recruiting, retention and training of officers, to make sure that they are representative of the community.

Another thing is that we need to have liaisons—plural—into various communities. For a long time—I think, still—we have only one LGBTQ+ liaison officer, which is woefully insufficient. That's something we're going to be looking to change by expanding the number of liaisons for our community. Ideally, I'd like to see somebody of rank—meaning not just a line officer, although that's important, too—but the police department is a paramilitary organization with a chain of command; it really matters a lot. You can tell how important an issue is by virtue of resources devoted, particularly the rank of the officer who is the point person.

More generally, we have to continue engaging our community in the hard and important work in their public safety. That requires an ethos within the department that is a respectful, constitutional engagement with the community. That's the most valuable tool. What that looks like, and how those relationships are formed, and the depth of those relationships, will vary by community. What one community may need—and feel is needed for the right parameters of a relationship—might vary. But the engagement has to happen, be ongoing and real, and be something that the department is fully onboard and committed to.

WCT: Do you have a timeline established for getting the new liaisons in place?

LL: I don't have a specific timeline. I will tell you, I'm pushing the police department on so many different fronts. Obviously, right now, our primary concern is making sure that we're keeping the community safe. But in my mind's eye, I'd like to get a lot of these things in place before the end of the year.

WCT: Will the city's investigations into discrimination cases—I'm speaking here of the Commission on Human Relations—change under your administration?

LL: I've started the conversation with [Commissioner] Mona Noriega. It's a work in progress. I think her work is incredibly important and I want to make sure that she has the resources that she needs to be successful. So, stayed tuned on that. I have great confidence in Mona; she's a member of our community, but I do know that she needs additional resources.

WCT: In the past month, certain businesses in Boystown have faced backlash thanks to allegations of racist actions by those businesses. What should be the response from the city, and what's the best response by the community?

LL: I've followed it tangentially and don't know all the particulars. I have to say that I'm energized by the fact that members of the community are saying, "We're not going to put up with this. We're going to deal with this at the community level." I think that's the sign of a really healthy community.

Many times, residents suffer in silence. Things happen at the community level, and then you only know about them when they explode. So the fact that these come into the public view shows to me that the community is active and dynamic, and I'm going to do what ever I can to be a mediator and be supportive. But I think these issues are best resolved at the community level, and if need be we'll come in and support it.

WCT: How can Chicago Department of Public Health's resources be best deployed to address HIV/AIDS and other health challenges for the LGBT community?

LL: It's good that you asked me that—that's a question that I have. [CDPH Commissioner] Dr. [Julie] Morita is going to New York for I think what she would describe as her dream job. We've got Dr. [Allison] Arwadi stepping up as acting commissioner and I know that she is really committed to these public health issues. I'm going to be working with her and her team.

We think the size and scope of the public health department is too small for what we need. We're going to be looking at some additional outside resources to determine what best practices and the framing should be for the department. Clearly a priority has to be making sure that we're getting PrEP into as many hands as possible. You know that there's always been a racial and an economic disparity in the way that HIV preventative measures are meted out—that continues to be a disparity to this day. We know this issue will be an issue for Dr. Arwai, and we're going to do what we can to try to make sure that we can try to reach as many people as we can, and try to have as a goal to get to zero [new HIV transmissions].

WCT: What has the past month been like for your family?

LL: There's been a surreal aspect from it. We were in the glow in the immediate aftermath of the inauguration. ... Very quickly, we got down to business and a week after the inauguration we had our first city council meeting.

[My wife and I] are trying to check in with each other. We're trying to carve out good family time, because this is absolutely a marathon and not a sprint. We haven't been going at the same pac as we were going during the campaign. But we want to make sure that we have time individually and as a family to savor this incredible experience.

WCT: What's been particularly surprising for you since you started?

LL: It's kind of a long list. Look, I place a really high premium on having a well-managed organization. Anything that I've ever been a part of, whether it's a small piece of litigation, or a board member of an organization, anything that I've been involved in, I'm going to make sure that we understand what we're involved in, that we're focused on that, and that we're managing every aspect well. That's the sensibility that I've brought to the job as mayor. There's some things that are really well-run in our city, and there's some things where we've got a lot of room for growth.

It's really, really a deep honor for me to be the mayor of this city. The support and optimism that I'm experiencing across the city gives me energy every single day, and I think it's important for us in our community to really savor this moment. I don't think many people thought this was a possibility. I know that for a lot of people, I kind of came out of nowhere. But I'm committed to making sure that our community is safe, that we get the resources that we need and that we fight against the hate that is out there.

It's unfortunate that in this time we still have to worry about people demonizing our community, and that is a reality, but I am going to be one that stands tall in the city for something different. I think that we are, can be, and should remain a beacon of hope for people who are in different circumstances, who can't live their authentic life. Chicago has got to be that beacon of hope and light, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen.


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