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Democrat Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor of Chicago Tuesday, in a landslide victory that represented several historic milestones. Lightfoot, who is openly gay, will be the first black woman to lead the city. A relative outsider to Chicago’s political scene, she interprets her triumph as a "mandate for change" from its people. Lisa Desjardins talks to the mayor-elect about what comes next.
The city of broad shoulders and tough politics turns a new page.
For the first time in 30 years, Chicago has elected a mayor whose name isn't Daley or Emanuel.
Lisa Desjardins reports.
It was a landslide, history-making victory, and Chicago's new mayor-elect, Democrat Lori Lightfoot, said Chicagoans made clear who and what they wanted:
You did more than make history. You created a movement for change.
We can and will finally put the interests of our people, all of our people, ahead of the interests of a powerful few.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Lightfoot, who is openly gay, will be the first black woman to lead the city. She's an attorney, and she's a relative outsider to Chicago's political scene. She'd distanced herself from the current mayor, Rahm Emanuel, even though he'd previously named her to oversight posts.
Starting with the primary in February, Lightfoot bested 13 other candidates, including former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley of the powerful Daley family. And in yesterday's runoff, she easily defeated Toni Preckwinkle, a longtime fixture in local politics.
Lightfoot appeared with fellow Democrat Preckwinkle today, and Preckwinkle pledged to work with her former foe:
We have some real challenges ahead of us in our county and in our city. And I look forward to working with mayor-elect Lightfoot to address those challenges.
Lightfoot herself comes from a working-class background, and her resume includes stints as a federal prosecutor and president of the Chicago Police Board.
She inherits a city still struggling with gun violence and a deep sense of the haves and have-nots, in the role of police and in the city's much scrutinized school system. Those are themes for Lightfoot, and she is pragmatic and direct in approach.
It's something she displayed when asked today why it took so long for a black woman to be elected mayor.
I can't look into the crystal ball. All I can do is the here and now. Here I am, and now we move forward.
I spoke to mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot earlier today, and began by asking what she thinks her win means.
Well, I think the way in which we won, which is getting support from literally every ward in the city, is a historic mandate for change.
Chicago's been under the grip of the corrupt and broken political machine for as long as everybody's memory. And I think people realize that something was problematic, that we needed to have change, but weren't confident that it was possible.
I think the way in which I won in February really gave people optimism and hope that we could go in a completely different direction. And I think this broad mandate that I got last night is a real prescription for change.
Your city has been in the headlines too often in the past few years for violence. It's something you have talked about. And, specifically, in your campaign, you say you want to address the illegal flow of guns into Chicago. But how do you do that as mayor of the city?
Well, first of all, you have got to make sure that our federal partners in the U.S. attorney's office, ATF, FBI, DEA, not only here in Chicago, but all the states that are the sources of illegal guns, they have got to be focused on a coordinated and proactive strategy to go after the gun dealers, the traffickers, felons in possession, and the straw purchasers.
So, if we focus on those individuals in a coordinated way, then I think we're going to see significant drops in the number of guns that are coming to our city, and then, as a consequence, the number of gun-related shootings and homicides.
So, do you see this as an enforcement issue primarily, or are there are new gun laws you think the city needs to put in place?
Well, look, I think it's got two major pillars.
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.
What that cries out for, to me, is a need to invest in our people, neighborhoods, small business, rebuild our neighborhood schools. And if we focus on those things, we're going to absolutely drive down violence and create an environment and an infrastructure for positive change.
On the subject of policing, you are a former prosecutor, but you have also come out during this campaign saying that you think sometimes police are reaching too far, perhaps in the use of the gang database there in Chicago, and you think maybe some people are getting tagged in the justice system inappropriately.
Obviously, there's a trust issue in Chicago with the police. Can you talk about the balance with law enforcement and police? Should something be done there?
Well, look, the police can't be effective if they are not viewed as a legitimate force for good.
So we have to continue the hard, but necessary work of bridging that divide. And having multiple databases, which is what we have right now, that have people who got in it 30 years ago, there's no transparency around it. You don't know how to get in. You don't know how to get off.
So what I have said is, that database has to be decertified. And only when we have a process that is transparent, that demonstrates to people what the onboarding process is and a transparent way to get out of a database can we stand up a new one.
I'm meeting with the superintendent of police. And that will be one of the primary issues that we talk about.
You have talked about forgotten Chicago and making sure you bring development and resources to the part of Chicago that is outside of the gleaming downtown, especially the south and west.
But we have heard this from politicians of Chicago for years. How do you make that happen?
Well, number one, you have got to deal with the violence, because nobody's going to invest in neighborhoods where they don't feel safe, where their employees are not going to be safe or their property is not going to be safe.
That's kind of the overarching issue that really affects every other thing that we want to do to uplift the quality of life in neighborhoods.
And then the city itself has to come up with a comprehensive plan for economic development, which we do not have, which means we have got to go into those economically distressed neighborhoods, listen to the people there, engage in a conversation about the assets and opportunities, and then use that information to develop a comprehensive plan in which we can drive progress.
Of course, one of the national headlines coming out of Chicago recently involves actor Jussie Smollett. I know you have been getting a lot of questions about this.
To remind our viewers, Smollett was charged, and police say he was guilty, of filing a false police report. But the charges were dropped with almost no explanation.
As a former federal prosecutor yourself, what do you think about the role of privilege? Is there too much role for privilege in the law enforcement system in Chicago?
Well, look, privilege should never change the outcome.
No matter your financial status, no matter your celebrity, everybody should face the same level of justice. And that's the concern that we have in this case.
And, first, let me say, we need to make sure that we understand hate crimes do happen. People are targeted as a result of what they look like, how they — the God that they worship, or who they love. So I don't want to dismiss that.
But in this particular circumstance, within five weeks' time of when the charges were laid out, and it seemed like there was an overwhelming case against this individual, suddenly, the state attorney's office dismisses all charges, with no acceptance of responsibility on the part of Mr. Smollett.
I think that begs for an explanation. And I have been saying now for a week, since the issue came up, that the state attorney's office has to give a much more fulsome explanation, so that you eliminate the perception that, if you're rich, or you're a celebrity, or both, that you get better treatment than the vast majority people who are making their way through a torturous criminal justice system.
Finally, I have got a bit of a personal question for you.
I read it you grew up in a working-class family, both parents working multiple jobs, and that you particularly the credit your mom, who came from the segregated South, with being a driving force in your life. I'm curious, what does she think about this historic win?
My mother is a fascinating person.
What she says to me is, this is how I raised you. I wanted you to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there, to be strong and fearless and feel like you had the confidence to be anything that you wanted to be and take on any challenge.
So, I know she's very proud. And I'm grateful for her being my mother, but also being a constant presence in my life.
Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, thank you for joining us.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
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