As a native Chicagoan with a long and deep political and civic involvement, I take a special interest in the goings on in the Windy City. In recent months, my attention has been drawn to Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She came to the office on the fifth floor of City Hall somewhat of a novice – a lawyer in the powerhouse law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt. Yes … she did serve on a couple of civic committees.
Unlike Chicago’s two previous black mayors – Harold Washington and Gene Sawyer – Lightfoot did not come up through the segregated inner city of Chicago. In fact, she was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood in Massillon, Ohio.
Perhaps Lightfoot’s most important experience in terms of serving as the Windy City’s boss – as we call our mayors, for good reasons – was the high school boycott she organized to demand the school improve the quality of the pizza served at lunch. We Chicagoans are VERY particular about our pizza.
I mention the lack of significant background in Chicago political and government affairs because that may explain why she seems to be floundering as her tenure approaches the two-year mark.
Lightfoot’s meltdown appears to have begun a year ago as she was juggling the double crisis of the Covid-19 Pandemic and an epidemic of crime – with a school controversy as a sideshow. She was taking a lot of heat for the shutdown at the same time the black community was suffering disproportionately – as is almost always the case for those trapped in the segregated communities.
In terms of crime, she fluctuated between good cop and bad cop. At times she seemed to side with those who talk about re-imagining policing– with emphasis on social welfare. At other times, Lightfoot took up the cause of tough enforcement. She was trying to bridge a socio-political gap that is just too wide.
Characteristic of a person cracking under the pressure, Lightfoot started to show her frustration by lashing out in uncontrollable fits of anger.
The first major example was her decision to only sit for interviews with black journalists. It is impossible to see how that would not be viewed as anything but reverse racism. Imagine if a white mayor limited interviews to white journalists. Or a Hispanic mayor limiting interviews to Hispanics.
Lightfoot was essentially saying that she did not care about the competence or even the demeanor of journalists who have long covered City Hall. She was literally repudiating Martin Luther King’s call to judge a person not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
Lightfoot’s action was inappropriate because the Chicago press corps has been racially integrated. Blacks have been in the reporter ranks – and have hosted radio and television shows — for generations. Lester Holt, who hosts the national NBC evening news is a graduate of the Chicago press corps.
The latest issue with Lightfoot’s stability is an email that was revealed through a Freedom of Information request. If you were wondering what that gibberish is at the top of this commentary, it is the email in question.
It is obvious that Lightfoot was not happy with the work ethic in her office – and the email was her vent. It is well over the edge of rationality. It is not how a stable boss deals with a personnel problem. There is almost a sense of paranoia about it – a madness.
In an email strewn with exclamation points, Lightfoot writes, “I need office time every day!” — a total of 16 times. “Not Just once a week or some days. Everyday!” — 9 times. “Breaks and transition times between meeting are not office time.” — 7 times. “If this does not change immediately, I will just start unilaterally canceling things every day.” – 5 times. “Have I made myself clear, finally!?” – 11 times.
It should come as no surprise that various news outlets – including the Chicago Tribune — have already compared the email to the maniacal Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” — and the scene in which he frantically writes over and over, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The New York Post called the Lightfoot email “deranged.”
Since writing that email, Lightfoot has said that she and her staff “are in a better place.” But for all the frustration that Lightfoot may have felt, she has not resolved the anxiety of the people of Chicago, who can only hope there is not yet another breakdown in the future.
So, there ‘tis.