Chicago - Mar. 21, 2019
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A Long Look At Lori Lightfoot

Barring developments of the unforeseen kind, I mentally locked in my vote for mayor two days ago and ended up where I started: Lori Lightfoot.

She's far from perfect. But not as far as Toni Preckwinkle, to whom I gave the benefit of the doubt for a long time even as she seemed to do everything she could to lose it with each passing week. Plus, Berrios.

I briefly considered Paul Vallas, but this is not the time for a white male who chartered the entire New Orleans school district, even if he is a budget whiz.

Gery Chico isn't actually altogether horrible, but that's about the best I can say about him at this point.

I never really considered anybody else.

In a post-Laquan era, a believer and practitioner in police reform is exactly what the city needs - and Lightfoot is someone who understands that fixing our police department can go a long way toward not only driving down crime but uplifting communities and creating an environment in which other issues like affordable housing and neighborhood schools can really be addressed.

Bill Daley likes to say, "If we we don't get crime under control, nothing else matters." He's wrong. His top-down law enforcement approach is exactly what we've had enough of. His specious calls for "tougher sentencing" and putting more people in prison goes against everything we've learned in recent years. Instead, we need to reverse direction, and that's what Lightfoot (and, frankly, Preckwinkle) is advocating. Daley (among everything else that is wrong with him) is still stuck in the mindset that the only problem with the police are the few bad apples who spoil it for the bunch. That's just sophistry. Lightfoot understands in her bones how systemic and institutional racism coupled with a sick organizational culture have created the environment we're in - even as she's spent a large portion of her career as a federal prosecutor and has even defended cops in court. Lightfoot, then, is uniquely positioned to be the mayor this city needs as it falls under the pall of a federal consent decree. This is Chicago's chance to get this stuff right.

Now, I've been around long enough to know I should never allow myself to actually like a politician. They will always let you down. But Lightfoot is the candidate I find least undesirable. And this week she seems to have finally passed the viability and plausibility test. I've come to believe she might actually be able to do the job.

Of course, if she wins, I'll be on her case from day one, when deserving. I'm not "backing" her. I'm not invested in her. I'm just voting for her.

So let's take a look a long look at Lori Lightfoot.

*

"Lightfoot has a compelling personal story that could be helpful when it comes to introducing herself to voters," the Sun-Times reported in May.

"She is the granddaughter of a sharecropper and the daughter of a housekeeper who grew up in Massillon, Ohio.

"Before she was born, her father, a factory worker and a janitor, went deaf and spent a year in a coma."

From Marie Claire:

"The youngest of four kids, Lightfoot grew up in a highly segregated town in Ohio. Her father lost his hearing when she was young, making it difficult for him to provide financially for the family. She recalls how watching her father struggle to support her family, and her mother's work as a house cleaner and later in mental health institutions and nursing homes had a profound impact on her. 'I learned early on about the real meaning of equity and inclusion, and that when those guiding principles are not met, they can have devastating effects on individuals, families, and communities,' she says."

*

Back to the Sun-Times:

"The first black class president of her high school, Lightfoot worked seven jobs to put herself through the University of Michigan, including serving as a cook for the Wolverines' football training table."

I presume she had a series of seven jobs while in college, which wouldn't necessarily be unusual, not seven jobs at once.

"While attending law school at the University of Chicago, she organized campus protests against the discriminatory hiring practices of Baker McKenzie, the multinational law firm. Although Baker McKenzie was one of the university's biggest benefactors, the protests culminated in the firm being banned from recruiting on the U. of C. campus."

That was in 1989. From the Tribune's account:

The Law Student Association has called on university officials to suspend the firm from recruiting on campus for one year because of what it describes as "racist, sexist and anti-Semitic comments" during an interview with the student at the firm's Chicago office . . .

Accounts of the interview are contained in an article by Lori Lightfoot, director of the student association, for the Phoenix, the law school's newspaper . . .

During the session, the student was asked how she was admitted to the law school, and the partner went on to "share his belief that the university loves to admit foreigners to the exclusion of qualified Americans," according to the account.

In discussing the practice of law, the partner asked how the student would react to being called "a black bitch" or a "nigger" by adversaries or colleagues.

While discussing outside activities, the student said her interests run to golf. [The partner] responded, "Why don't blacks have their own country clubs?" He observed that Jews have their own country clubs and stated that he'd never want to belong to one, "but at least they had their own." He said that the reason blacks don't have exclusive country clubs is "there aren't too many golf courses in the ghetto."

After graduation, Lightfoot joined the U.S. Attorney's office. Among her extracurriculars: working for the Chicago chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

*

As a lawyer, Lightfoot's clients haven't always been sympathetic.

For example, Lightfoot was one of the attorneys representing disgraced former board of education president Sharon Grant.

From the Tribune in 1996:

"Having pleaded guilty last year to three felony counts of failure to file state income tax returns and one count of failure to file a federal return, the brazen former city school leader will report in early March to the Intensive Confinement Center at Bryan Federal Prison Camp, a 120-inmate, all-female boot camp in Bryan, Texas, just outside of Houston . . .

"[Lori Lightfoot] said Grant is pleased with the outcome of the case.

"Sharon Grant certainly has her detractors. But in the time that I have spent with her, I've found her to be an incredibly strong person," Lightfoot said. "People have a tendency to think that because boot camp allows you to cut time off your sentence, it's a cakewalk. It's not. But Sharon Grant has tremendous strength of character."

Ew.

Lightfoot would later represent one of the cops in the infamous Jefferson Tap case and the city in the Sharon Eilman case.

Lawyers don't always have awesome clients. But those cases are pretty distasteful ones to find yourself on the wrong side of, though I'm under the impression her role in the Eilman case to negotiate a settlement.

*

As an assistant U.S. attorney, Lightfoot "prosecuted cases related to drugs, political corruption and bankruptcy fraud," the Tribune reports.

One of those political corruption cases - frankly, I don't know if there were more than one - was that of Ald. Virgil Jones in 1999, as part of Operation Silver Shovel, which snared six aldermen, two city inspectors and 10 others.

The Trib at the time:

Jones spent Tuesday and Wednesday on the witness stand insisting that the two payments from Christopher were legitimate campaign contributions, despite the alderman's admitted policy of not accepting cash donations.

Prosecutors Sheila Finnegan and Lori Lightfoot scoffed at his explanation, pointing to the six hours of tape-recordings made by Christopher that formed the heart of the government's case.

After the verdict, Lightfoot told reporters that the "preposterous explanations that (Jones) gave for very obvious corrupt discussions" with Christopher made the jury's decision easy. "He stretched the bounds of truth beyond belief," she said.

Nice.

*

Back to the Sun-Times:

"Under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, she served as chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, now known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

"In 2005, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley asked the team of Lightfoot and Mary Dempsey to clean up a minority contracting program disgraced by scandal.

"In the course of cleaning house, Lightfoot and Dempsey made waves by taking on powerful targets. They included Tony Rezko, the now-convicted former chief fundraiser for now-convicted ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich; Elzie Higginbottom, Daley's chief fundraiser in the black community; construction giant F.H. Paschen, and the O'Hare outpost of O'Brien's restaurant, an Old Town institution.

"Daley didn't want them to go that far. He simply wanted them to make the negative headlines tied to the Hired Truck and minority contracting scandals go away."

It is in this vein that Lightfoot is often described in news clips as having "an independent streak" - even if it means actually doing the job she was (purportedly) hired for.

*

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley picked Lightfoot to run the police department's Office of Professional Standards in 2002. After two years as head of OPS, Lightfoot moved to the city's Office of Emergency Management to be chief of staff and general counsel.

When Rahm Emanuel named her to head the police board in 2015, the Tribune referred to her as a "Daley troubleshooter."

But the paper noted:

"A 2007 Tribune investigation of more than 200 police-involved shooting cases covering the previous decade concluded that cursory Police Department investigations of officer shootings created a separate standard of justice for those officers. The time period when Lightfoot ran OPS was included in the investigation."

This is troubling, though I think her argument at the time was that . . . she tried.

*

The results were better during Lightfoot's time as head of Emanuel's police board:

"A Tribune analysis of Police Board data showed that the panel fired roughly 75 percent of officers whose cases were decided during her service from 2015 to 2018. From 2011 through 2014, the rate was under 40 percent."

Good.

*

When Emanuel named Lightfoot to head his police reform task force, I thought, like so many others, that she would deliver a whitewash. The task force, after all, was a Rahm Emanuel salvage effort, right?

Wrong. Lightfoot delivered a blockbuster. The Financial Times named her one of the nation's top 10 most innovative lawyers, saying:

She wanted the report to be unimpeachable, so she required each group's findings to be grounded in quantitative and qualitative sources including data and academic studies, witness interviews and reviews of existing policies. The report and recommendations have had significant traction nationally and are broadly seen as a template for reform.

I don't know about that, but even given her lengthy resume, it is that task force report that put Lightfoot on the map - and put her in a position to run for mayor.

From Wikipedia:

The final report used Chicago police data to show that African-Americans were regularly and disproportionately abused and denied rights, which had been reported by many African-American residents of Chicago over many years.

Chicago's population is approximately one-third black, Hispanic and white and according to the report, 404 people were shot by the Chicago police between 2008 and 2015 and 74 percent of those were African-American.

According to the New York Times, the final report "was blistering, blunt and backed up by devastating statistics."

As a result of the report, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be implementing roughly one-third of the 76 recommendations in the report.

Dean Angelo, the president of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, declared the accusation of racism in the Chicago Police Department "biased."

[Lori Lightfoot] responded to Angelo: "It is hard to fathom that Mr. Angelo maintains his reflexive, uninformed position when it is obviously belied by the facts. Does he really believe that a better trained, better prepared and more professional police force will not inure to the benefit of his members?"

Her rhetoric in these citations is so much better than it's been on the campaign trail. Maybe she's held her golden tongue. I say, let Lightfoot be Lightfoot!

*

I won't discuss policy positions here, but suffice to say I find her positions mostly thoughtful and agreeable. That's the easy part.

The hard part is judging her character and her ability to be effective. I've come to believe that she's met the bar for both.

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on February 22, 2019


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