In early December Ben Joravsky interviewed candidate Lori Lightfoot. The mayoral challenger is an experienced manager and reformer and has worked at several levels of city and state government. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
JORAVSKY: You’re one of the few mayoral candidates who spoke out against Alderman Burke when the feds came a knocking at his door. What are your thoughts when you see thousands show up for his fund-raiser?
LIGHTFOOT: Look, it says a sad thing about our city: It’s not a trivial matter for the FBI to execute a search warrant on a sitting elected official’s government offices this close to an election. And yet we saw, like lemmings, a thousand people going there to kiss the ring. That says to me, we have to break from the machine-style government, the past, and move forward in a different direction. Obviously he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence, but this is not about his guilt or innocence. It is about the people of the city being entitled to have a government that actually is legitimate and working for them.
Does it annoy you when the presumption of innocence is only invoked for certain white-collar people, but so many poor black people in the west and south sides get locked up all the time without a presumption of innocence?
There clearly is a double standard in our criminal justice system. And having frankly defended a lot of people who have been wrongfully accused, they get on the conveyor belt and nobody stops to say, is this a righteous prosecution? Does this really make sense? And as you well know, we’ve paid hundreds of millions of dollars to individuals who’ve been wrongfully incarcerated, some of whom have been on death row in this state. But look, I still believe in the rule of law. It’s very important to me, particularly in these times when it’s under siege.
If you are elected mayor, what would your stance be on the chairman of the Finance Committee being a property tax attorney?
I think that there should be a prohibition on any elected or appointed official who takes outside business that is in conflict with their obligations as a public servant. That’s one of the pillars of my good government plan. We can’t restore confidence in our democratic institutions when you have people who were either not disclosing obvious conflicts, are still taking those on, and then serving a different master other than the people of the city of Chicago. I’ve lost count of the number of times that an Ed Burke, or frankly a Gery Chico when he was head of the Chicago schools, had to recuse themselves because he had all these entanglements with outside business.
What’s your response to Toni Preckwinkle challenging your petitions?
There’s no there there—we’ve examined on a line-by-line basis all of the challenges, and some of the stuff, it’s just frankly completely made up. Challenging pages of a petition that don’t even exist. Challenging people’s signatures. Like for example, my lawyer signed my petition. She challenged that. If Toni wants a fight, let’s fight about the issues. My understanding is that she had 200 people working ’round the clock to put together these bogus challenges and frankly, the lawyer who lodged this complaint against us, they ought to be ashamed of themselves. It’s a game that’s played, but the sad thing is it turns people off from the election, from participating in our democracy.
Back in 1984 I interviewed some freshman at Northwestern University and I could not understand how somebody so young—you presume somebody at age 18 would be idealistic—could support Ronald Reagan. I presume in 1984, you were not a Reagan supporter.
I was not. But Reagan came across as this vibrant “morning in America” guy and giving people hope. So there were a lot of young people in those days that were supporting Ronald Reagan. I was not among them. I was definitely, [have] always been, a Democrat.
Do you have any sort of nostalgia for the style of Reagan and Bush as opposed to the style of Donald Trump?
There’s been a lot of nostalgia, but I think what people are feeling is unease with the level of viciousness in our politics. Moderation and compromise is viewed as something that’s evil and anathema to being a strong supporter of one position or another.
Look, we can’t move forward together as a city, as a state, as a country, if people aren’t willing to see the other person and not villainize them. I’m just hopeful that we’ll get to a narrative that’s about how can we solve problems of everyday citizens and move the city forward. We’re going to keep doing everything we can to advance that narrative because I think it’s critically important to reengaging people with government. We’ve lost too many people that turned us off. They think government doesn’t work for them or worse, the government hurts them. That elected officials are there just to pass out the slush fund of government to friends and family. And we really need to be about a hell of a lot more in this city and in this election if we’re going to take on and solve some of the tough challenges that are critically important to laying the foundation for the future of the city. v