Cook County Democratic Party boss Toni Preckwinkle exposed her mayoral campaign’s desperation by launching a weak attack on ballot rival Lori Lightfoot — a fellow African-American woman — for overcoming childhood poverty to become a successful attorney.
The TV attack ad that calls Lightfoot a “wealthy corporate lawyer” who defended a Wall Street bank sued for racial discrimination, among other things, is a blatant attempt to slap a negative label on Lightfoot, who most Chicagoans have just started getting to know.
Local news outlets used the ad to sum up the mayoral run-off in headlines — “Wealthy Attorney” vs. “Machine Politics” — that are only half right.
The feds did expose Preckwinkle as a phony independent tied to the Democratic Machine when they charged Ald. Ed Burke with shaking down a Burger King owner for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Preckwinkle — just a taste of more than $100,000 the 14th Ward boss raised for the Cook County board president at a house party.
But tagging Lightfoot as a rich lawyer and a sellout doesn’t resonate as a slur. Not when you’re talking about a former federal prosecutor who, unlike Preckwinkle, launched her mayoral bid to take on Rahm Emanuel before he decided to quit after two terms.
“Frankly,” Lightfoot will tell you herself that she can handle Preckwinkle’s “ridiculous and offensive” attack ads “all day long.” She’s done a great job sharing her origin story, plans for a new, better Chicago and articulately arguing for your support with substance and wit.
Still, I know it’s difficult to get to know somebody new — an outsider in Chicago politics — when she’s campaigning to get your vote while defending herself against a better-funded rival slinging half-truths and innuendo on TV ads.
So, let me tell you about the Lori Lightfoot I know.
We met on the phone. I didn’t know what Lightfoot looked like. I didn’t know she’s married to a woman.
We had the little guy in common, Mayor Emanuel, that is.
Emanuel appointed Lightfoot to head up City Hall’s police accountability task force, and lead the Chicago Police Board.
I wrote columns about Emanuel’s floundering attempt to rebound politically in post-Laquan McDonald Chicago.
So, when well-placed City Hall snitches fed me information about the Emanuel administration’s attempt to present the illusion of police reform, I called Lightfoot to chat.
Because Lightfoot worked for Rahm, I expected her to be a shyster which, in my opinion, is the best way to describe another top lawyer who worked for the mayor — corporation counsel Steve Patton. (Patton’s the guy whose testimony helped convince aldermen to use $5 million in taxpayer cash as hush money to keep video of Laquan McDonald’s murder a secret until after Emanuel won re-election.)
I couldn’t have been more wrong. She’s delightful to talk to, whip smart and funny as hell.
Whenever I asked Lightfoot about lying cops, falsified reports or the broken police discipline system, she never hesitated to tell the truth. I can’t stress how rare that it is for City Hall bureaucrats. She told me when she thought I was missing the point, and sometimes tipped me off on where to find detailed examples backing up her investigative point of view.
Every time we talked, it became clearer that Lightfoot wasn’t a bureaucrat. If anything, she was a do-gooding Girl Scout out to find real solutions to Chicago’s unsolvable problem — police corruption – who took her political appointment more seriously than the guy who gave it to her.
In 2016, the Emanuel administration wasn’t paying attention to the task force while they had secret meetings, scripted press conferences and papered the town with press releases aimed at trying to whitewash from Emanuel’s legacy the handling of Laquan McDonald’s murder.
Meanwhile, Lightfoot demanded the police accountability task force back up every troubling finding and recommendation for change with documentation beyond reproach to create a reform roadmap that would, if followed, make a real difference in Chicago.
Insiders will tell you Emanuel blew a gasket after getting blindsided when Lightfoot’s task force released a scathing report calling out the lack of “accountability” and respect for “humanity” in the Chicago police department without giving the mayor a heads up.
If Emanuel thought Lightfoot was just a “wealthy corporate lawyer” who “used her influence to gain a powerful appointment,” as the Preckwinkle TV attack ad suggests, he found out the hard way that he didn’t know her at all.
If you believe Preckwinkle’s lame attempt to brand Lightfoot as an elitist fueled by political ambition, you’re getting scammed by the leader of the Democratic Machine.