This is part of a series of interviews Windy City Times is running on LGBTQ+ candidates in the 2023 municipal elections taking place Feb. 28.
In 2019, Lori Lightfoot became the 56th mayor of Chicago.
What she has accomplished since becoming the city's leader has been a series of unprecedented victories, catastrophic blunders or a dizzying mix, depending on who is asked.
Lightfoot has cited victories such as establishing a casino, increasing the minimum wage (to $15/hour) andimportant to LGBTQ+ peoplerelaunching the Mayor's LGBTQ+ Advisory Council and starting the Hire Trans Now initiative. But many have said that the current mayor has stumbled in areas involving education (including the chasm between her and the Chicago Teachers Union), housing and policing/crime (e.g., anti-trans attacks that have, unfortunately, continued). And then there have been developments such as her 2021 decision to only give one-on-one interviews to journalists of colorwhich is a win or a loss, again, depending on the person asked.
Lightfootwho described herself as a "happy warrior" to Windy City Timestalked just hours before she attended the 2023 Equality Illinois Gala (which she jokingly said has been called "the gay prom") that took place at the Hilton Chicago.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: I want to start with a general question: What was one thing that surprised you during this term?
Lori Lightfoot: Hmmmother than the pandemic? [Laughs]
I won't say it's a surprise, but the entrenched residual [aspect] of the machine that still exists in city government is real. You [may] not have read the government's indictment of [outgoing 14th Ward Ald.] Ed Burke, but I did. There's a story told there that didn't get publicized much: One of the overarching themes is that Ed Burke was trying to shake down a Burger King franchisee to get his tax business. He did it the nice waytook him out to the country club for lunchand when that didn't work, he thought he'd apply power. So the Burger King operator (and the restaurant, ironically, is near where Laquan McDonald was murdered by Jason Van Dyke) was getting some work done on his drive-thru and the ward office whistled a building inspector over who issued a bunch of bogus violations on the Burger King operator to shut the operation down.
This didn't get much notice in the press, but it really caught my attention. What that tells you is that, as a mayor, you can have the right set of values and pick people for your cabinet who have the same vision about what a good government looks like. But where the rubber meets the road is the people out in city departments who are on the frontlines interfacing with the public; if they don't share your values, then you have significant problems in meeting the needs of your residents. It wasn't a complete surprise but it was an important reminder of the work we have to do. People get their jobs for the wrong reasonbecause they work for a [particular] political candidate.
The goal is to make sure that everyone in our city government understands what service literally means: serving the public.
WCT: And on the flip side, what's the biggest regret from this term?
LL: I have tell you that I really try to live my life without having regrets. But I would say there are a lot of challenges and needs in our cityand I'm impatient. I want to tackle them all. I want to solve all the problems and not just put a Band-Aid on something. I really want to move forward.
We need to do more to engage people at the block level. That was obviously difficult to do during the pandemicwhen people were scared and hurting. But that's how we continue to make transformative differences in the lives of our citizensto get them engaged and informed, and to build the capacity so work can be done, whether it's a block club, faith organization or neighborhood organization.
WCT: You received an endorsement from Equality Illinois…
LL: And I'm very, very pleased.
WCT: And one from the Victory Fund…
LL: Yesand LPAC [which supports LGBTQ+ women candidates running for political office].
WCT: With all of the things you've done for the LGBTQ+ community, there are Black and Brown people who make up the community who are suffering. There are gaps when it comes to healthcare, housing and, of course, policingwith trans people of color having been killed this year. How are you tackling those problems?
LL: Obviously, the unique challenges of our community have to be addressed head-on. A lot of them stem from the overarching challenges that we have. Decades and decades of disinvestment affect people in their neighborhoods, and it doesn't differentiate by gender or sexual orientation. Discrimination can be felt at the baseline of not investing in neighborhoods and not giving people access to affordable, high-quality healthcare. That's a big issue. People need access to economic opportunities and affordable housingall of those things profoundly affect and resonate the LGBTQ+ community. And we can't ignore the discrimination that happens just because of who we love and how we live our own authentic lives. So we've got to make sure we're doing the baseline of work and we have to make sure we pay particular attention to vulnerable communities who are ostracized.
As a member of this community, I'm laser-focused on making sure that we continue to support our community in concrete, tangible ways through service organizationsand making sure that our community has a seat at the table. The whole reason why I established our LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee is that we have a cross-section of people from our communityBlack, white, Brown, trans. I wanted to make sure this committee was advising meand, frankly, holding me accountable. We're making sure that we have access to life-affirming and life-saving healthcare; we're funding organizations that have LGBTQ+ client bases. We have to make sure that our community is never, ever left behind.
WCT: Continuing on the LGBTQ+ tract, you said you were not surprised when [openly gay] Ald. Tom Tunney, who was vice-mayor, said he would endorse Paul Vallas in the mayoral race. Why is that?
LL: Because if you look at the position he's taken over the years, I do think [Tunney] is much more aligned in his set of values with Paul Vallas. Paul Vallas is a Republican who not only caters to the right-wing, but has been involved with them. It's not a surprise that he was a headliner, in 2022, with Awake Illinoisone of the most outrageous right-wing organizations in our state. It's not a surprise that he has said that he favors himself as more of a Republican. It's not a surprise that he is not pro-choice. And I think those values are more in line with where Tom Tunney is; if they weren't, he wouldn't be endorsing a guy like Paul Vallas. Think about what [Vallas] did to Chicago Public Schoolsskip paying teachers' pensions; when he went to New Orleans, he basically gutted the public-school system there. Is it a surprise that he did basically the same thing in Philadelphia?
And this guy is leaning into the North Side and predominantly white fears about crime and violence. He's not coming up with any concrete solutions; he's just stoking the fires and fears that people have of being victimized. But if you look at his track record, there [actually] is no track record of fighting crime. He's not going to fight time. When he was budget director [of Chicago], crime was upway worse than now. And if you're not supporting women's rights, you're not protecting their safety.
We're going to unmask him for who he is. And if people want to align themselves with him, then so be it. But what I know is that this guy can never be the mayor of our city. He doesn't see us, respect us or support us.
WCT: What grades would you give your own leadership and working with City Council?
LL: I'd give myself a very high mark. I'm not perfect, though. Keep in mind that when I came into office, I knew very few of the [alderpersons], personallyonly a small handful. So I had to start those relationships almost from scratch. But something that's different about me is that I don't buy votes; that's anathema to good government.
People say, "Oh, she doesn't get along with City Council. She's got poor relationships." We have faced some of the toughest challenges in the history of the city: record budget deficits and big challenges as a result of COVID. But even when we had the federal dollars, we had to make strategic decisions about improving the quality of life for people in this citynot just in this moment, but for generations to come. With very single one of those challengesguess what?we got a majority of those City Council members to say "yes."
Think about the other big historic things that we've been able to accomplish on my watch. How many years of futility have there been in which mayors have said we should have a casino? It happened because of the work I did, building relationships and making the case with the General Assembly and the governor's office. You can't do those things unless you know how to be a coalition-builder.
There's a lot of noise but the proof is in the puddingand the proof is that we delivered over and over again.
WCT: If you could ask one of your mayoral challengers a question and that person had to answer it truthfully, what would it be?
LL: I think I'd ask Paul Vallas why won't he tell the truth about his background and history. I know that if he did, no one would be talking about Paul Vallas or supporting him. He may be a nice man but he has no business as a CEO because everywhere he's gone, he's left the place worse than he found it.
What's really shocked me is that for someone who's run for mayor twice, he knows so little about what's actually going on in city government. He used to use lines like, "We ought to have uniformed police on the CTA." I said, "Paul, I send you some pictures because we do." He likes to pontificate about he would like to do, but we're doing those things already.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot's campaign website is lightfootforchicago.com .