Lori Lightfoot

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Lori Lightfoot
Lori Lightfoot at MacLean Center (02) (a).png
56th Mayor of Chicago
Assumed office
May 20, 2019
Preceded byRahm Emanuel
Personal details
Lori Elaine Lightfoot

(1962-08-04) August 4, 1962 (age 56)
Massillon, Ohio, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Amy Eshleman
EducationUniversity of Michigan (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)

Lori Elaine Lightfoot (born August 4, 1962) is an American politician and lawyer serving as 56th and current Mayor of Chicago. Before becoming mayor, Lightfoot worked in private legal practice as a partner at Mayer Brown and held various government positions in the City of Chicago. Most notably, she served as president of the Chicago Police Board and chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force.[1][2][3] She is a member of the Democratic Party.[4][5]

Lightfoot ran for Mayor of Chicago in 2019, advancing to a runoff election against Toni Preckwinkle in the February 2019 election. She defeated Preckwinkle in the runoff on April 2, 2019.[6][7] Lightfoot is the first black female and first openly gay leader of the city, which will now be the largest in United States history to have an openly LGBTQ mayor, and again the largest U.S. city to be headed by a woman. She is the second woman to be elected mayor of Chicago and the first woman to hold the office since the four-year term of Jane Byrne ended in 1983.[8]

Early life[edit]

Lightfoot was born in Massillon, Ohio, the youngest of four children. Her mother was a healthcare aide and school board member, and her father a factory worker and janitor.[9][10][11] She grew up in a mostly white neighborhood on the west side of the city.[10]

She is a graduate of Washington High School in Massillon, where she was a trumpet player in the school band, point guard on the basketball team, yearbook editor, and Pep Club member.[10] She was elected high school class president three times.[10] Her high school alumni association named her a "Distinguished Citizen" in 2013.[12][10] While in high school, Lightfoot helped organize a boycott of her school's lunch program over the quality of its pizza.[13]

Lightfoot received her Bachelor of Arts in political science from University of Michigan in 1984, graduating with honors.[14] She worked seven jobs to afford her education, including working as a resident assistant.[11][15][14] She also worked factory jobs at home during summers to help pay for her education.[14] While Lightfoot was an undergraduate, her older brother was arrested in connection with a bank robbery.[10]

Lightfoot took jobs working for Congress members Ralph Regula and Barbara Mikulski before deciding to attend law school.[10][16][17] She has said she chose to attend law school not because of her brother's legal troubles, but because she wanted a job that offered financial independence.[10] She matriculated at University of Chicago Law School, where she was awarded a full scholarship.[18] As president of the University of Chicago Law School's student body, she led a successful movement to ban a law firm from campus after the firm sent a recruiter who made racist and sexist remarks towards a student.[9] Lightfoot quarterbacked an intramural flag football team while at Chicago Law School.[10] Lightfoot also served as a clerk for Justice Charles Levin of the Michigan Supreme Court.[16] She graduated from University of Chicago with her Juris Doctor degree in 1989.[17][18]

Career in law and city government[edit]

Assistant U.S. Attorney (1996–2002)[edit]

After graduating law school, Lightfoot became a practicing attorney at the Mayer Brown law firm. During this time, she defended large corporate clients, Republican politicians, and clients accused of racial discrimination against African-Americans.[10] Lightfoot first entered the public sector as Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. During her mayoral campaign, Lightfoot cited several reasons for entering public service, including a desire to represent the African-American community, a sense of injustice based on the murder of a family member by a Ku Klux Klan member in the 1920s, and her older brother's struggles with the law.[9]

While working as a federal prosecutor, Lightfoot helped to prosecute those accused of federal crimes, including drug crimes.[10] She assisted with Operation Silver Shovel, an FBI investigation into Chicago corruption. She helped to convict alderman Virgil Jones.[9] In 1999, Lightfoot was issued a warning for misconduct by judge Richard Posner in a case in which she was found by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to have misled a United States Circuit Judge regarding a suspect's whereabouts, making it impossible for the judge to stay the suspect's extradition to Norway.[19][10] Lightfoot and the Justice Department at the time disputed this characterization of her actions.[20]

Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards (2002–04)[edit]

In 2002, Lightfoot was appointed chief administrator of the Chicago Police Department Office of Professional Standards, a now-defunct governmental police oversight group, by Police Superintendent Terry Hillard. She held the position for two years. In the position, she was charged with investigating possible cases of police misconduct, including police shootings of civilians. However, a Chicago Tribune report found that the Office of Professional Standards' investigations often lacked thoroughness. Lightfoot says her recommendations for disciplinary action were often rejected by the police department.[9]

In one notable case, Lightfoot went against Police Department orthodoxy by recommending the firing of officer Alvin Weems, who shot and killed an unarmed man, Michael Pleasance. Weems was initially believed to have accidentally shot Pleasance, but after video evidence contradicting the initial claims was revealed, even Weems himself expressed feeling that the shooting was unjustified. Weems was not fired by the Chicago Police Department, but the city was eventually forced to pay a settlement to the Pleasance family. Weems later committed suicide.[20]

In another controversial case where officer Phyllis Clinkscales shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old Robert Washington, the Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot determined that the shooting was justified. In doing so, the Tribune said she reversed the order of her predecessor, who had called for Clinkscales' firing. Clinkscales' account of the events of the shooting had been found to contain untrue statements in an investigation.[20] Lightfoot disputes this account of Clinkscales' case, saying that the police superintendent at the time was responsible for declining Lightfoot's predecessor's finding that the shooting was unjustified.[21] Lightfoot said her action on the case was to push for a 30-day suspension for Clinkscales, which she implied was the most that was possible given the circumstances.[22]

Other roles in Chicago city government (2004–05)[edit]

Lightfoot then moved on to work in the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications. She was later hired by Mayor Richard M. Daley as deputy chief of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services.[10][9] There, she and her boss, Mary Dempsey, investigated Chicago corruption, drawing Mayor Daley's ire in the process. Lightfoot and Dempsey's investigations included probes of then-Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich's associate Tony Rezko and prominent Daley donor Elzie Higginbottom. Lightfoot worked at the Department of Procurement Services for a few months, subsequently returning to Mayer Brown.[9] Lightfoot suggested she left the Department of Procurement Services because of dismay at corruption in City Hall.[10]

Private practice[edit]

As an attorney at Mayer Brown, Lightfoot represented Republicans in two cases protesting Democratic gerrymandering.[18] At Mayer Brown, she also defended Chicago police officer Paul Powers against charges of physical assault. In 2019, after facing criticism over defending Powers, Lightfoot cited video evidence in favor of her former client's innocence.[22]

Lightfoot was briefly hired by the city of Chicago to defend the city against charges brought by the family of a mentally ill woman, Christina Eilman, who was brought into custody by Chicago police after suffering a mental breakdown at Midway Airport. Eilman suffered sexual assault and a seven-story fall after being released by police into Englewood. Eilman's family reached a $22.5 million settlement with the city.[23][24]

Lightfoot has also served on the boards of the Illinois chapters of NARAL and the ACLU.[17] She has served as external counsel for Bank of America.[15] In 2013, Lightfoot was a finalist for the position of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, but the job went to Zachary T. Fardon.[25]

Chicago Police Board and Police Accountability Task Force (2015–18)[edit]

Lightfoot speaking at the release of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force's report in 2016

Lightfoot returned to the public sector in 2015, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to replace 19-year incumbent Demitrius Carney as President of the Chicago Police Board. The board's main responsibility is to make recommendations for or against disciplinary action on certain disputed cases of police misconduct.[25] Under Lightfoot's leadership, the board became more punitive, firing officers in 72% of its cases. In the wake of the controversy over the murder of Laquan McDonald, Emanuel also appointed Lightfoot as Chair of a special Police Accountability Task Force.[26] In 2016, the Task Force, led by Lightfoot, filed a report critical of the Chicago Police Department's practices.[9] She specifically criticized the police union's "code of silence.[27] The anti-police brutality activist organization Black Youth Project 100's Chicago chapter released a statement denouncing Lightfoot and the Board and Task Force for a "lack of accountability".[28]

In 2017, Emanuel re-appointed Lightfoot to a second term as president of the Police Board. The decision came after Lightfoot and Emanuel had publicly come into conflict, particularly over Emanuel's attempts to reach a police reform deal with Trump Administration Justice Department officials that would avoid a consent decree and oversight from a federal judge. Lightfoot called Emanuel's approach "fundamentally flawed". At the time, there was already speculation that Lightfoot was planning a run for mayor of Chicago in 2019, though she denied the rumors.[29] Lightfoot resigned from the Police Board in May 2018, just before announcing her mayoral campaign.[11]

2019 mayoral campaign[edit]

One of Lightfoot's mayoral campaign signs, featuring her slogan "Bring in the Light"

On May 10, 2018, Lightfoot announced her candidacy for Mayor of Chicago in the 2019 elections, her first-ever run for public office.[30][31][32] She is the first LGBTQ mayor and first black female mayor of Chicago.[33] Lightfoot is the first openly lesbian candidate in the history of Chicago mayoral elections.[34]

By summer 2018, Lightfoot had the highest-funded campaign of any individual challenging the two-term incumbent Emanuel.[35][36] However, in the fall, Emanuel dropped out of the race, and high-profile candidates like Gery Chico, Bill Daley, Susana Mendoza and Toni Preckwinkle subsequently entered.[37]

Animosity between the Preckwinkle and Lightfoot campaigns was reported as early as October 2018, when Preckwinkle denied rumors that she had pressured Lightfoot to drop out of the race.[38] In December, after Lightfoot submitted the petitions necessary to secure a place on the ballot, Preckwinkle's campaign filed a challenge claiming that many of Lightfoot's petitions were fraudulent. The Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners found Lightfoot had enough valid petitions to remain on the ballot, and Preckwinkle's campaign withdrew its challenge.[39]

In January, the race was upended by a major corruption scandal involving Chicago alderman Ed Burke.[40] Lightfoot ran a television advertisement criticizing Chico, Daley, Mendoza and Preckwinkle as the "Burke Four" for their connections to the disgraced alderman.[41]

Lightfoot picked up several endorsements, including nods from LGBTQ groups and local politicians.[42][42][43] In February, Lightfoot won the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board.[18] As close to the election as late January, Lightfoot's support ranged between 2% and 5% in polls.[44][45][46][47] She surged in polls later in the race, consistently polling at or near double-digits in surveys released in the weeks leading up to the election.[48][49][50][51][52]

On February 18, Lightfoot made headlines after one of her press conference was crashed by Preckwinkle ally Robert Martwick, with whom Lightfoot then got into a heated exchange with.[53]

Shortly before the election, Preckwinkle's campaign manager, Scott Cisek, came under fire after comparing Lightfoot to a Nazi in a Facebook post. Preckwinkle fired Cisek and publicly apologized for his post.[54]

Lightfoot finished first in the February election, in what was considered to be an upset.[43][55] She placed above a crowded field of fourteen candidates. Because no candidate reached the necessary 50% of the vote needed to win the election outright, she and Preckwinkle advanced to a runoff election.[7]

In the runoff, both the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune endorsed Lightfoot.[56][57] Several former candidates, including Mendoza, Chico, Paul Vallas, and fourth-place finisher Willie Wilson also endorsed Lightfoot in the runoff.[58][59] Lightfoot held a substantial lead over Preckwinkle in polls conducted during the runoff campaign.[60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67]

During the runoff, Lightfoot faced criticism from criminal justice activists over her record in police accountability and as a prosecutor.[22][68] Chicago-based musician and activist Chancelor Bennett, also known as Chance the Rapper, voiced similar concerns in his runoff endorsement of Preckwinkle. Bennett, a former Amara Enyia supporter and son of Preckwinkle's campaign co-chair, said Lightfoot's record as a prosecutor and Chicago Police Department employee has worked against the interests of the black community in Chicago.[69] U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, who endorsed Preckwinkle in the runoff after supporting Daley in the general election, made similar criticisms of Lightfoot centered around criminal justice issues.[70][71] Lightfoot defended herself against Bennett's criticisms at a mayoral debate, citing her personal experiences with racial discrimination as evidence she would take the concerns of the black community into account.[72] Lightfoot also faced activist criticism over comments at a University of Chicago forum, where she suggested turning some shuttered schools in the city into police academies.[68][73] Lightfoot later disavowed this suggestion via Twitter.[74]

Lightfoot won the runoff election on April 2, 2019, becoming mayor-elect of Chicago.[8] She won more than 73% of the overall vote in the runoff, winning in all 50 wards of the city.[75] Lightfoot won all but 20 of the city's 2,069 voting precincts.[76] Voter turnout was 33.08%, almost a record low.[77]

Mayor of Chicago[edit]


Lightfoot took office on May 20, 2019.[78] Incumbent mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly modeled the transition between his and Lightfoot's administrations on the U.S. presidential transition between the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.[79] Emanuel was part of the Bush-Obama transition as Obama's Chief of Staff designate.[79] Lightfoot endorsed the comparison between her transition and the Bush-Obama transition.[80]

On April 4, Lightfoot named key members of her transition team: she named her campaign manager Manny Perez to serve as intergovernmental advisor, Maurice Classen to serve as her Chief of Staff, Sarah Pang and Ra Joy to serve as senior advisors, and Lisa Schneider-Fabes to serve as transition manager.[81]

As mayor-elect, Lightfoot expressed a desire for the Laquan McDonald code of silence trial to be reexamined, urging the U.S. Attorney’s Office to reopen their grand jury investigation to examine if any civil rights were violated.[82] While Lightfoot has advocated for an elected Chicago school board, as mayor-elect she opposed state legislation that would create a 21-member board, calling it "unwieldy".[83]

On April 6, 2019, Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times that her staff would, during her first post-election weekend, spend time examining the city's 600-page agreement with Sterling Bay regarding the Lincoln Yards development.[84] During her campaign, Lightfoot had been critical of the process that was being taken to reach the agreement.[85] The following Monday, at her request, Mayor Rahm Emanuel postponed City Council votes on the approval of $1.6 billion in tax increment financing subsidies for both the Lincoln Yards and The 78 mega-developments.[86] After the developers of the two projects agreed to increase commitments to hiring minority-owned and women-owned contractors, Lightfoot announced that she now supported the deals, which were approved one day subsequent to her declaration of support.[87][88]

One week before her inauguration, Lightfoot named lawyer and activist Candace Moore as Chicago's first-ever chief equity officer, a job in which Moore will focus on countering racial inequality in the city.[89]


Lightfoot joined by her family and Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox at her inauguration

On May 20, 2019, Lightfoot officially took office as Mayor of Chicago, after being sworn in at 1:15 am by Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, at the Wintrust Arena,[90] accompanied by her wife and daughter.[91]



Lightfoot's first executive order limited "aldermanic prerogative", a practice under which aldermen were granted an effective veto over matters in their wards.[92]

On May 20, Lightfoot announced the retention of several administrators who had worked under the previous Emanuel administration, alongside a number of new hires.[93]

Shortly after taking office, Lightfoot faced what was regarded as her first test at public safety, as Memorial Day weekend in Chicago had, in previous years, often been a period in which Chicago had seen a spike in violence.[94][95] In an attempt to eschew this pattern, Lightfoot initiated Our City. Our Safety., under which extra police patrols were stationed in busy locations, as well as in troubled spots, and free youth programs were organized by the Chicago Park District at about a hundred locations.[94][95] A notable extent of violence was still witnessed over the weekend, to which Lightfoot responded, “We can’t claim victory and we certainly can’t celebrate. We have much more work to do.”[96]

On May 28, Lightfoot unveiled proposals to revise the operating rules of the Chicago City Council. Among other things she proposed live streaming video of committee meetings, changes to strengthen the rule on conflicts of interest and the transfer of control over TIF subsidies to the Council's Committee on Economic and Capital Development.[97] She also outlined plans to focus on reducing the city's gun violence, remedy its fines and fees programs, increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021, and pass "fair workweek" legislation tightening rules surrounding workplace scheduling.[96] She also urged City Council to pass an ordinance within her first hundred days that would establish a level of civilian oversight on the Chicago Police Department.[96]

On May 29, during the first City Council meeting, over which Lightfoot presided, she held her ground in debating issues with alderman Ed Burke.[98][99] On May 31, after indictments were brought against Burke, Lightfoot called for his resignation.[100][101]

On June 3, Lightfoot announced her selections for the Chicago Public Schools school board, appointing former City Clerk of Chicago Miguel del Valle as its president.[102] She also announced that incumbent Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson would retain her position,[102] having previously only committed to retaining her for an interim period.[93]

After legislation expanding gambling in Illinois was passed by the State Legislature at the start of June; Lightfoot announced that the city would commence study of where a Chicago casino would be located.[103] Lightfoot's predecessors had long sought to obtain a casino for the city.[103] While the state did not approve a city-owned casino (reportedly preferred by Lightfoot, as it had been by her predecessors); state legislation allowed for a privately-owned casino from which the city would receive one third of tax revenue generated.[103]

On June 5, Lightfoot outlined further ethics reform proposals for the City Council.[104][105][106]

Lighfoot also launched a community policing initiative in June.[107]

Personal life[edit]

Lightfoot resides in the Logan Square neighborhood, on Chicago's North Side.[108] She is married to Amy Eshleman, a former Chicago Public Library employee, who is now a full-time parent to the couple's adopted daughter, Vivian.[10][31][109]

Lightfoot has held Chicago Bears season tickets for 20 years,[10] and is also a Chicago White Sox season ticket-holder.[110]


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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Rahm Emanuel
Mayor of Chicago