Lori Lightfoot emerges as new mayor of Chicago, joining a group of Black women leaders in the US; but some say, ‘eh’ to her win

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On Thursday, Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman, openly gay mayor, announced her transition team. As she prepares to take the helm in Chicago after an unpopular Rahm Emanuel steps down, some activists in the local Black LGBQT community are none too pleased.

One of dozens of Black women entering an elected public office for the first time, Lightfoot, who won in a landslide victory, vies to change the status quo in a city troubled by machine politics. According to database site, Black Women in Politics, she is one out of 468 Black women candidates who ran or declared to run in 2018. Also, she is number 13 of those who lead the biggest cities in the U.S.

A city fresh from the Jussie Smollett legal disaster and the Robert Kelly prosecution causing unflattering national attention, Lightfoot aims to move in a different direction. She says she wants to bring development and resources to a forgotten part of Chicago, as well as, tackle excessively high gun violence. In an interview with PBS News Hour, Lightfoot explains her focus:

The violence that we’re seeing is really an epidemic. It’s a public health crisis. And what we haven’t done is look enough at, what’s the root causes? A lot of what we’re seeing are crimes of poverty. And that means people don’t feel a connection to the legitimate economy.

And that makes sense, when you think about the fact that we have 25 percent unemployment or higher in the crime-plagued neighborhoods. We have — a vast majority of people that live in those neighborhoods are on some form of government assistance. Forty percent of African-American children in the city are living in poverty.

Although, this is the first time Lightfoot was elected into office, she has a past with the police department. Some say that her previous relationships with law enforcement and city administrations, qualify her as a bedfellow in establishment politics.


Black, queer feminist community organizer, Charlene Carruthers is nonplussed about Lightfoot’s election win. In particular, how the new mayor is held as a progressive representative of the LGBTQ community. For Carruthers, it is “a failure of liberal queer politics.”

In the beginning of Emanuel’s tenure as mayor, he appointed Lightfoot as president of the Chicago Police Board. In that position, she oversaw a nine-member independent civilian body that decides disciplinary cases involving police officers. Under her leadership, more officers had been disciplined than beforehand, but activists and parents of shooting victims of cops felt that she was not as effective as she could have been.

It was under Lightfoot’s watch that the Laquan McDonald police shooting death unveiled a cover up by the Chicago Police Department. In 2014, a 17-year-old McDonald was murdered by Chicago PD when he was shot 16 times in the back while running from Officer Jason Van Dyke. After the exposé in 2015, Van Dyke was tried for 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. The local community was incensed by the police cover up, thus sparking ongoing protests.

In October 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty and given the minimum sentence of six years.

Chicago, Illinois – April 20, 2018: Students, faculty and citizens march against gun violence and protest Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the University of Chicago Campus. Photo credit: Kevin Kipper

Lightfoot along with board members offered a list of suggestions to Chicago’s mayor, including a replacement of the police superintendent. Emanuel rejected most of their recommendations and picked his own replacement, Eddie Johnson.

After the city implemented small-to-if-any changes, Lightfoot publicly split from Emanuel. However, she worked with other mayors before Emanuel, and served in several capacities working with the Chicago police department since the late 1990s as a federal prosecutor. Later, she served as a chief administrator in the police department from 2002 to 2004.

During her career, Lightfoot worked closely with a Chicago police department that has racked up a $662 million bill involving settlements for police misconduct, since 2004. Chicago PD also carries a long history of being discriminatory in its hiring practices of officers.

Benji Hart, a Chicago-based author, artist, and educator and blogger of Radical Faggot, wrote in an Advocate commentary, “ . . . for many in Chicago — especially those who are Black or Brown — these celebrations ring hollow and feel like active erasure of the tremendous organizing labor against a candidate who is so similar to a predecessor we fought so hard to push out.”

While an overarching sentiment is that Lightfoot can be the leadership to “finally put the interests of our people, all of our people, ahead of the interests of a powerful few,” as she claims, a cadre of the community will hold her accountable.

Read: Bottoms Up: Keisha Lance Bottoms new Atlanta mayor 

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