Lori-Lightfoot

Aug. 4, 1962

Chicago Mayor (2019-)
Task Force On Police Accountability (2015-2018)
Chicago Police Board (2015-2018)
Attorney, Mayer Brown (2006-2019)
Chicago Department of Procurement Services (DPS), Interim First Deputy Procurement Officer (2005)
Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), General Counsel and Chief of Staff (2004-2005)
Chicago Office of Professional Standards (OPS) of the Chicago Police Department, Chief Administrator (2002-2004)
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, Assistant US Attorney (1996-2002)
Attorney, Mayer Brown (1990-1996)
Hon. Charles Levin, Michigan Supreme Court, Law Clerk (1989-1990)


A trial attorney, investigator and risk manager known for her “independent streak” who has moved between corporate litigation and public service, Lori Lightfoot landed a gig at the Chicago Police Board as the country and soon, the City, would turn its eyes intently to police accountability. She would be tapped again in the wake of the December 2015 Laquan McDonald shooting video release to head up the six-member Task Force on Police Accountability. She is no stranger to high-profile political or law enforcement cases.

Lightfoot, an Ohio native who got her B.A. at the University of Michigan and J.D. at the University of Chicago Law School, worked as a clerk under the Hon. Charles Levin in Michigan’s Supreme Court (his cousin is U.S. Sen. Carl Levin). After a one year stint under Levin, she joined Mayer Brown, one of the world’s largest legal firms, in 1990 and stayed there until 1996. Her work included corporate litigation, and she also participated in the successful litigation of a Congressional redistricting case, Hastert v. Board of Elections, which resulted in the first majority Latino Congressional district in the state.

In 1996, Lightfoot became Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, where she played a lead role in the investigation, charging, trial, conviction and sentencing of 15th Ward Ald. Virgil Jones, as part of the Silver Shovel Investigation. Lightfoot remained an AUSA until 2002, when then-Supt. Terry Hillard asked her to serve as Chief Administrator at the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS), the precursor to the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

According to her Mayer Brown bio, from 2002 to 2004 Lightfoot managed a 100-person office of civilian investigators at OPS who investigated police-involved shootings, excessive force and misconduct allegations; coordinated joint federal and state investigations; and helped with a redesign of the disciplinary process, creation of a management intervention program for problem employees, and targeted tracking of litigation costs associated with complaints. Following her term at OPS, she worked for a year as Chief of Staff and General Counsel at OEMC, where she managed homeland security concerns in Chicago, including 311, traffic, emergency management, and 911.

In 2005, in response to a M/WBE scandal at the Department of Procurement Services, Mayor Richard M. Daley tapped Lightfoot and Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey for a total redesign of the department’s certification program. At the time, James Duff, the mob-connected head of Windy City Maintenance, was found to be conning the city out of millions. In the course of the investigation, Lightfoot investigated Tony Rezko (former fundraiser for Gov. Rod Blagojevich), Elzie Higginbottom (black community fundraiser for Mayor Daley), and F.H. Paschen (head of one of Chicago’s biggest construction companies).

After her time working for the city, in 2006 Lightfoot returned to Mayer Brown, where she served as outside counsel for Bank of America, and in several police-related cases. In 2006, she defended CPD when four men said they’d been beaten by off-duty cops outside the Jefferson Tap bar. In 2009, she won acquittal of a police officer charged with aggravated battery and other charges in relation to an off-duty incident. Lightfoot and her team at Mayer Brown were also brought on to the Christina Eilman case. According to the Chicago Tribune, she “was arrested at Midway Airport in 2006 during a bipolar breakdown, held overnight by Chicago police and then released without assistance several miles away in a high-crime neighborhood where she was abducted and sexually assaulted before plummeting from the seventh-floor window of a public housing high-rise. She suffered permanent brain damage and other injuries that doctors say will require constant care for the rest of her life.” The city eventually reached a $22 million settlement with Eilman’s family.

Earlier that same year, Lightfoot was one of four contenders put forward by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to fill the position of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Jonathan Bunge, Gil Soffer, Lightfoot, and Zach Fardon’s names were all submitted for White House consideration, and Fardon won out.

In June of 2015, Mayor Emanuel appointed Lightfoot to replace Demetrius Carney as head of the nine-member Chicago Police Board, which decides disciplinary actions involving allegations of serious misconduct made against CPD. In December 2015, in the fallout over the Laquan McDonald case, Lightfoot was tapped as one of six members of the Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force.

In 2016, Lightfoot unveiled the task force’s recommendations, which centered on three major policy pitches: replace the beleaguered Independent Police Review Authority, appoint a new Deputy Inspector General to monitor the police department, and install a civilian-led oversight commission to set police department policy. The first two proposals were put in motion under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but the third ended up consuming the first two years of her mayoralty.

Seizing on the attention she had gained on the Police Board and Accountability Task Force, Lightfoot joined the eclectic group of candidates running to challenge Emanuel in his hunt for a third term. Her initial campaign focused on pushing for more equitable neighborhood investment, police reform and good government. She slowly gained traction with an early boost in donations from the legal world and LGBTQ networks along the city’s north lakefront.

But the race turned on its head in September 2018, when Emanuel shocked the city by announcing he would not seek another term. The announcement spurred a whole new wave of candidates to throw their hats in, including former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle was widely seen as the favorite, but the tenor of the race changed again when Ald. Ed Burke’s (14) office was raided by the FBI on Nov. 30, 2018. It proved to be the first shoe to drop in a deepening investigation into City Hall corruption that would catapult Lightfoot’s candidacy. She leaned on her outsider status and prosecutorial résumé to project herself as the only candidate in the race who could take on Burke and the rest of the city’s old guard. She got another major boost when the Sun-Times endorsed her weeks before the election, citing her commitment to neighborhood development and her record as a “force for honesty and integrity behind the scenes.”

Lightfoot earned just under 18 percent of the vote in the first round of the election, beating all other 13 candidates in the race. Preckwinkle finished second with 16 percent, advancing to a runoff. But Lightfoot’s stock continued to rise during the runoff race as Lightfoot secured the backing of the city’s law-and-order conservatives like Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41) and Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) while Preckwinkle was pelted by a barrage of scandals, including accusations of sexual harassment in her office. Lightfoot prevailed in the April runoff with a scorching 74 percent of the vote, obliterating Preckwinkle in all 50 of the city’s wards.

The new mayor caused a stir immediately during her inauguration speech, when she turned to the aldermen sitting behind her and declared that the days of “shady back-room deals” were over. She signed an executive order on day one banning so-called “aldermanic prerogative” in city licensing and permitting decisions — a move that immediately earned her some enemies in the City Council. She promised to eventually follow up an overhaul of city rules to curtail aldermen’s unilateral powers over zoning decisions in their own wards. But no such change ever came, leaving development decisions to break on a ward-by-ward basis.

In one of her first legislative pushes, Lightfoot sailed series of ethics reforms through the City Council, including a ban on so-called “cross-lobbying” by elected officials in different jurisdictions. She also pushed from her first days in office to create a civilian-led oversight body of the Chicago Police Department. And in one of the first tests of her ability to wrangle the City Council, she tamped down a rebellion from the Aldermanic Black Caucus in December 2019 over her administration’s proposed zoning rules for now-legal pot dispensaries.

In March 2020, she came within inches of an agreement with activists from the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability over a police oversight ordinance — but the deal fell apart just as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to its knees, knocking all other priorities off the mayor’s plate for months to come.

The lockdown phase of the pandemic swept the city into a rally-round-the-mayor fervor, boosting Ligthfoot’s popularity as she became an internet meme scolding people who broke the stay-at-home rules. But her administration quickly ran into a series of hot patches, like in April 2020, when Hilco Redevelopment Group’s botched demolition of the Crawford Power Station sent a plume of dust over a nearby neighborhood, exposing systemic failures by the Department of Buildings and Department of Public Health. And she got stuck between warring social and political factions during the racial uprisings of Summer 2020, chilling her relationship with police even as young liberal and abolitionist voters became skeptical she would ever change the city's justice system — especially as plans for a police oversight body remained stalled. Lightfoot stood out among big-city mayors for refusing to consider winding down funding for police.

Even as she tussled with the most raucous and divided City Council Chicago has seen in decades, Lightfoot notched some important wins in the latter part of 2020 — none more so than the narrow passage of her controversial 2021 “pandemic budget.” The belt-tightening spending plan cut more than 1,000 vacancies and tied future property taxes to hikes in inflation, a move praised that was praised by budget wonks but miffed aldermen who represent the city’s wealthiest wards. She pushed the budget across the finish line after multiple rounds of dealmaking with Ald. Jason Ervin (28) and the Aldermanic Black Caucus — even after she reportedly threatened to withhold services from Black aldermen who voted against her plan.

The mayor’s administration pushed through other big policy initiatives, including plans spawned by the Department of Housing to legalize Accessory Dwelling Units and overhaul the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance. She mended fences with longtime adversary Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) to pass a long-promised measure to beef up the city’s “Welcoming Ordinance” for undocumented immigrants. And after months of back-and-forth, she wrestled the “Industrial Air Quality and Zoning” ordinance across the finish line to put up more barriers for would-be polluters — even though the final draft was so watered down it was no longer supported by any environmental groups.

Lightfoot passed the gargantuan “Chi Biz Strong” business recovery package through the City Council in summer 2021, but not before Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) won his colleagues over on a successful push to limit the ordinance’s scheme to beat back aldermanic prerogative in sign permitting. And the mayor scored a belated but earth-shaking win that summer when she finally struck a deal with key aldermen to pass a civilian police oversight ordinance that would leave her with power to settle policy disputes between the eventual oversight commission and the Chicago Police Department.

But Lightfoot suffered a barrage of legislative defeats came from Springfield, exposing her gaping relative lack of state house clout compared to her predecessors. After having promised during her campaign to support an elected Chicago school board, Lightfoot made an all-out effort to stymie a years-in-the-making push by Sen. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) and Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Chicago) to realize the longtime priority of the Chicago Teachers Union. But lawmakers passed the bill over her objection, laying the groundwork for a fully elected school board by 2027.

By fall 2021, aldermen were skeptical of Lightfoot’s long-range “Chicago Recovery Plan” to plug American Rescue Plan dollars into the city’s budget and expand a range of social services — and even more were frustrated by what they called a lack of engagement with the City Council in the lead-up to the plan’s rollout. But after a round of concessions to progressive aldermen, including by blessing the creation of a City Council subcommittee to vet the city’s spending of the federal windfall, the budget passed in a 35-15 vote.

Education

  • University of Michigan, B.A.
  • The University of Chicago Law School, J.D.

Important Political Events

  • 1996, becomes Assistant U.S. attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois
  • 2002, starts work for the City of Chicago, working at OPS in CPD, OEMC, and DPS
  • 2006, returns to Mayer Brown, where work includes corporate litigation and defense of CPD officers
  • 2015, appointed to Police Board
  • 2015, appointed to Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force
  • 2019, elected Mayor of Chicago

Sources

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