Is Chicago’s new mayor as progressive as she claims?

The media has been hailing the victory of Lori Lightfoot, who is a black woman and openly gay, as a historic moment. However, activists point out that she has a history of working against the interests of the very communities whose interests she claims to champion

April 07, 2019 by Neeti Prakash
Lori Lightfoot has a record of defending the Chicago police when it has been charged with murders of Black youth.

On April 2, Lori Lightfoot of the Democratic Party became the first black woman and openly gay mayor of Chicago. A former assistant US attorney, Lightfoot beat Toni Preckwinkle in the elections by positioning herself as a political outsider and claiming to stand for a number of progressive causes. She will replace Rahm Emanuel, who announced in September that he would not seek a third term in office.

Lightfoot’s victory is being heralded, especially by the media, as a triumph for people of color and the queer folk of Chicago. However, activists in the city have been pointing out to her checkered record during her professional career and her track record of actively sustaining the very systems that oppress her communities. They have raised serious questions if her term as mayor would be different in any way but the symbolic.

In her long career as a partner with law firm Mayer Brown and as a federal prosecutor, Lightfoot has time and again represented right-wing corporations with anti-immigration ties, including the Republican Party and has defended companies against racial and age discrimination. During this time, she was also reprimanded by a federal appeals judge for abusing her power and misleading another judge in an extradition case. Through her work, she has pushed for gentrification, disinvestment from poor communities of color, and laxer standards of accountability for the police force, activists say.

According to #Stoplightfoot, a protest campaign launched by young people of color and queer folk of Chicago against her nomination and election, Lightfoot was appointed to lead the Chicago Police Board as well as the Police Accountability Task Force, under Emanuel, where she faced a backlash for defending the police officer who shot 17-year-old Robert Washington in 2000. She also infamously sheltered an off-duty police officer from being fired from the force after he shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd.

#Stoplightfoot also points out that despite promising increased accountability from Chicago police department which has a violent track record of harassing people of colour and LGBTQ+ individuals, Lightfoot has suggested converting vacant school buildings, left behind by Emanuel’s mass school closures in almost exclusively Black neighborhoods, into police training facilities, as well as constructing a new multimillion-dollar police academy in Chicago’s west side.

Lightfoot’s stance on affordable housing is another key issue which has come under. scrutiny. Despite vowing to ensure affordable housing for all, she has denounced rent control as an effective measure to do so. Thousands of Chicagoans, especially from Black communities continue leave the city because of its unaffordable cost of living and an unchecked rent rate, activists have pointed out.

Activists from Chicago’s poor communities of colour and LGBTQ+ community have received Lightfoot’s victory with caution. Although Lightfoot projected herself as a working class hero, the fact that most of her votes came from Chicago’s high-earning voters tells another story.  Her well-recorded tendency of targeting the communities whose identities she banks on for gaining votes thus attaches an asterisk to all her promises.