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Lori Lightfoot: Challenges of Leading in Crisis

February 5, 2024 1:32:07
Kaltura Video

The Honorable Lori Lightfoot, the 56th mayor of Chicago, reflects on her background and preparation for public service, the challenges she faced as mayor, and lessons about leading in crises. February, 2024.


0:00:00.4 Jeff Morenoff: Good afternoon and welcome. I'm Jeff Morenoff, I'm the Associate Dean of Research and Policy Engagement here at the Ford School of Public Policy. And I am delighted to welcome all of you this afternoon for today's policy talk event with the Honorable Mayor Lori Lightfoot. It's good to see our Ford School community gathered here, and those who we can't see here in the room. But I would also like to note there's a lot of people from across campus and beyond who I know are tuning in virtually. So we thank them and welcome them as well. And now I will introduce our guest of honor, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who served as the 56th Mayor of Chicago, the third largest city in America. Mayor Lightfoot was the first African American woman and first openly gay person to serve as mayor of Chicago. This is also a homecoming of sorts for Mayor Lightfoot, as she is a 1984 graduate of the University of Michigan. So Go Blue. Yeah.


0:00:58.8 JM: Mayor Lightfoot's tenure span some real American crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the violent protest in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and others. We look forward to her insights and lessons of leading one of America's great cities in these difficult times. So, Mayor Lightfoot will be speaking today with Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and the founding director of the Center for Racial Justice. And then after the conversation, two Ford School students are Bohnett Fellows, Katrina Wheelan, and Madison Prinzing will read audience questions, which you can submit using the QR code on the cards that have been distributed here in the auditorium. And that can also be submitted to those of you who are joining us online. I would also like to acknowledge our co-sponsor, the Center for Local State and Urban Policy, and our media partner, Detroit Public Television, which is rebroadcasting this and distributing it across the PBS Network. So with that, please join me in welcoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot.


0:02:15.7 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Good afternoon everyone. Good to see you. Good to see you. Thank you for being here, and good afternoon to the mayor. It's so wonderful to have you here.

0:02:25.9 Lori Lightfoot: Always a pleasure to be back.

0:02:27.7 CW: Yes. So I have been saying every time I see you, I say, welcome home. Welcome home.

0:02:34.8 LL: Thank you.

0:02:35.5 CW: So you in fact, we know grew up in Ohio but as was just mentioned, you were a student here at the University of Michigan, so I wonder...

0:02:42.6 LL: Just across the street at South Quad.

0:02:45.2 CW: Yeah. So I wonder if you can just pause and as you reflect on being back at your alma mater, where you knew folks like Barbara McQuade, law School Professor, Mike Duggan, current mayor back when when they were students. All of you going on to be public servants. So I just wonder if you can start with your origin story. And your time here at Michigan and what your experience was like that was perhaps foundational for the roles that you've had more recently.

0:03:22.9 LL: Well first of all welcome everyone. Thank you so much for being here. And go blue. I've already made my trip to Blippi, so I feel like I've accomplished all that needs to get accomplished. I grew up in Ohio in a town about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland. And at the time and still it was a big, big Ohio state city, sadly. But my oldest brother went to Ohio State, he's 12 years older than me. Went there undergrad on like the five-year plan. Got a master's, got a second master's. So the pull towards Ohio State was very powerful. A number of my classmates ended up going there, but I've always been a little bit of a contrarian. And I wanted to go someplace where I felt like I was gonna have the kind of quintessential college experience.

0:04:22.2 LL: Growing up in the town that I grew up in Massillon, football was a big, big part of really the center of community life. So it made sense that I would come to a place like Michigan except to my friends and family. I'm a traitor to the cause. But my time here I look back on with great fondness. It wasn't easy. I was not a... I didn't come from a family of means. And even though the room and board and tuition was much more modest than what I'm sure it is now, it was a struggle for me to be here. But I think that struggle in many ways helped me. I worked a series of work study jobs when I was here. I did literally everything from clerical work to, I was a cook at south Quad on the football training table.

0:05:13.2 LL: That was an experience. I've never seen people eat so much food in my life. But I had such fond memories of being here. It was tough though in those days, being black on campus particularly not being from Detroit Public Schools, which is a lot of where the black student population came from. So that was a new experience, but I found my way and people that I met at my first couple days as a freshman continued to be my close friends to this day. And I really relish every opportunity that I have to come back here. The transformation of the campus has really been pretty extraordinary. And as I was saying about my time here today, it is such a luxury and a gift to be around smart, thoughtful people who are doing work that is really gonna have meaningful impact on the lives of people all across the country and across the world. That's a real gift to be able to work in that kind of environment. I hope people here appreciate that 'cause I certainly do.

0:06:24.0 CW: So after law school, university of Chicago Law School, I wonder if you can talk about how you found your way into public service. Did you know that was your path all the way going to... From the time going back to UofM?

0:06:41.4 LL: No. If you had asked me even eight years ago, say are you gonna run for some kind of public office? I would've told you you were crazy. So after I graduated from law school, I clerked on the Michigan Supreme Court. So I spent a year living in Detroit, which is why I have such an incredible fondness for that city. And started to really kind of understand some of the challenges of living in a big urban environment. Detroit was going through a pretty massive size of shift. Coleman Young was still the mayor when I was here but he was definitely on the way out. And the city was really struggling. And as it, and struggled for many decades after that. And I think it's really been in the last few years where you see light on the horizon with Detroit, which makes, I think, obviously Detroiters extraordinarily happy.

0:07:35.2 LL: But it's great to see a great American city coming back and being innovative and being talked about in a very different way than what it was back in the late '80s, early '90s when I lived there. And then I went back to Chicago joined, a law firm, a law firm that I had summered at, and spent about six years there, had the opportunity to go to the US Attorney's Office which I... When I was in law school, thought about joining the FBI but for many reasons, not the least of which was because I knew I was a lesbian. I thought, I'm not sure that that matches up with the culture of the FBI back then. I see a woman smirking. You're right. That was not gonna be the right fit at that time.

0:08:19.5 LL: But I've always liked investigations. I love being an advocate. And my time at the US Attorney's Office was really incredibly formative for me. Not only because I love doing the work, I love feeling like I was an advocate for people who were plagued by crime, but it also taught me the importance of using power carefully. When you're a prosecutor and my friend Barbara McQuade can attest to this, you have the power to really change the trajectory of people's life in a really profound way. Just the issuance of a grand jury subpoena, which was not a big deal for any of us that can have a ripple effect on somebody's life. So understanding that and knowing that I think was important. I also thought it was important for me to be in that space as a black woman, as a person who came from a very working class background.

0:09:19.1 LL: I also had a brother at the time who was very much involved in the criminal justice system. So bringing that sensibility to this role that wielded a lot of power, I thought was really important. 'Cause you really do decide who gets charged, who doesn't, and what the charges are and how they're going to be presented to the world when you're seeking through a court to deprive them of their liberty interest. That's very, a lot of power and discretion and being discriminating and how you wield that power was really important. And there weren't a lot of people like me who had my background that were sitting in those roles anywhere, and definitely not in Chicago.

0:10:03.0 CW: In my research, I've written a lot about discretion. I'm in the public sector. And you just talked about this idea of people on the ground in these roles end up having a lot of power and discretion becomes really important. And many of the students in this room will take on jobs where one of the, they may not wield the biggest budgets when they first start, but they're gonna be in positions where they have a lot of discretion and discretion over people's lives. I wonder if you can talk about, a little bit more about what advice you would give to people when they wield that kind of power. What kinds of values and principles did you use? What kind of lens did you use when you thought about your use of discretion?

0:10:53.4 LL: Well, I'll answer that question through an anecdote if I can. Like many young prosecutors starting out, you do a lot of drug cases, and there was a case involving a young man, Latino guy where he confessed. And over time, as he got more comfortable with us confessed to being involved in a horrible murder and four which other people were prosecuted and went to prison. So I had a sense of urgency, obviously, about righting that wrong. He had a sense of urgency about coming to a different place in his life. What I came to learn was that looking back over the course of his life there hadn't been really any positive adult role models for him. And so he went to the streets fairly earlier on when he was a pre-teen.

0:11:54.9 LL: And it was clear to me that he wanted to get out of that life, but didn't know how. And so, when he was approached by these FBI agents who, by the way came to me and said, Yeah, we met this guy. Here's his profile. And we asked him if he wanted to get outta that life and cooperate. And he told us he would think about it and come back to us. And my response was, you idiots. He's never coming back. You're never gonna find this guy. He's probably five states away. But sure enough, not only did he come back, he brought with him a written confession. And it was for him, I think, just relieving himself of the burden that he had been carrying around, because he was involved with these two brothers in particular, who were incredibly sadistic. But long story short, and I answer your question, because I got to know him as a person, because I could see the trauma that he had endured for such a long time, I became an advocate for him. I was a prosecutor. There was no confusion about that. Got him a defensive lawyer, so he would have defense against the charges. He continued to cooperate with us.

0:13:16.3 LL: But when he was sentenced, I was gone from the office by that time. But I came back to testify on his behalf because I believed in the sincereness that he had exhibited in wanting to change his life around. And fast forward, he got a 15-year sentence because of his extraordinary cooperation. The people that he was involved with, who actually did the murder got life sentences. But I've actually reconnected with him now. He's out of jail. He's turned his life around. He's living in another state. He got a wife, and he has kids. And we have... It was important for me to reconnect with him because he was somebody that, of all the defendants that I prosecuted and I prosecuted many, he was one that stood out to me as somebody who really had, he had a different hand dealt to him in life. Had he had positive adult role models in his life, he would've done something different. And now he's still a young man and he's turned his life around, and I think he's gonna do extraordinary things.

0:14:19.6 LL: And I wanna be close enough that I can see, continue to see that transformation happen. But I could have treated him like any other defendant, not really cared, written up the indictment and gone about my business. But there was something about he and I and a connection that we had. And that discretion, again, was something that I used to try to help him get to where he wanted to be, which is a different person, a different life.

0:14:47.0 CW: So after your time in the US Attorney's office you had to really in critical work in...

0:14:56.4 LL: I went to work for the Chicago Police Department.

0:15:00.3 CW: In policing. Oh my goodness. So let's unpack that. First of all, why go from the judicial system moving more... It sounds like you're starting to move more and more towards executive leadership because the mayor position would come after that. Tell me about that shift in terms of that movement.

0:15:18.1 LL: Well, I was ready to take on a different role. And frankly, I felt like the possibilities for leadership within the office were gonna be limited for me. And I was ready to kind of expand my wings and expand my skillset. This opportunity kind of fell in my lap out of the blue. Going back, there was an internal unit within the Chicago Police Department that was responsible for investigating allegations of serious police misconduct. So of course the use of excessive force, but also police involved shootings. It had been around since the mid-1970s, arose out of a conflict where black residents were being grossly mistreated by members of the police department in ways that, and there was no vehicle at that time in the '70s for ordinary residents to lodge a complaint.

0:16:10.2 LL: And when they did it, they weren't investigated. Long story short, this opportunity for me to lead this investigative unit within the police department came up and I thought it was a good opportunity for me to take on this responsibility, lead investigations which I love, but also see a different part of the city. I'd worked a bit with Chicago police officers when I was a prosecutor. Many of them were task force officers. And I knew I was gonna enter into interesting terrain. Police departments are a culture unto themselves, but I worked for a superintendent that I believed in and who believed in me and gave me a lot of support to kind of grow in the role. And it was the, I only did the job for two years, but man, oh man, it was two years of an incredible experience that really shaped my thinking about justice and equity and fairness in pretty profound ways.

0:17:15.4 CW: What was it about being within that role that shaped your views, and what did you learn from it? What were the surprises that all of us need to understand when we think about police, Policing reform?

0:17:27.3 LL: Well, there's so much that I learned. First and foremost, It's a really tough place to be if you're female and a civilian. The culture is one where you are respected and valued if you have a badge. And you're particularly respected and valued if you're male with a badge. Female police officers, regardless of what their rank was had a really difficult time. People of color had a very difficult time, even if they were sworn. But coming in as I did, most people felt like my unit was called the Office of Professional Standards. All our job was, is to ruin the careers of good police officers. But I think we got a lot of good done. And I really insisted that we set a particular standard. My view was police officers can't lie. You cannot be a law enforcement officer and lie. So, there was a rule within the police department. Rule 14 also known as the Lie You Die rule. And I vigorously enforced that, not surprisingly, generating a lot of enemies among police officers felt like, why are you ruining this person's career just 'cause they didn't tell the truth one time? Well, my view was, one time was one time too many. And I'm not talking about honest mistakes.

0:18:53.9 LL: I'm talking about obstructing an investigation, lying about whether they were present, things along that line. I just felt like, I believe in law enforcement, but I believe law enforcement has to stand for integrity and hold itself to a better standard, not a different standard, not above the law, but a standard of integrity and excellence that can't be compromised.

0:19:13.0 CW: So much of what you said has to do with the culture of the department, but I wonder if you can also talk about the structural dynamics. What about the way that the organization is set up, the rules, the policies that reinforce some of the cultural dynamics that you just described?

0:19:29.8 LL: Well, some of that is about the way in which policing has historically been deployed to address issues of public safety. You know, for decades, if you talked about public safety, there was one strategy only. Put as many cops on dots in hot spots as possible and hope for the best. Well, we now have decades of data that tell us that law enforcement first and only alone is a failed strategy. It's never going to turn the tide. It may help in a reactive way, but proactively, winning the hearts and minds of the public, it's not the right strategy alone. Now, don't get me wrong. The police absolutely have a critical role to play in keeping communities safe. But it can't be the only role. It's not effective. We know that. Also, it sets the police up for failure, because it's asking them to do certain things that they are never going to be trained to do, never capable of doing. And so that's certainly part of their culture. But I think the only way that you bring lasting peace to neighborhoods is to really look at the root causes of the problems. Why is it that so many young boys and young men are picking up guns in cities like Chicago, like LA, like Atlanta?

0:20:58.4 LL: What's going on in their neighborhoods? What's going on in the opportunities for them to do something different, be a part of the legitimate economy? If you don't ask those questions, and importantly, go into those neighborhoods on a block by block basis and ask the residents what they believe that they need to be safe, you're never going to bring lasting peace to cities across our country. And so it's a combination of holding police accountable to the people that they're sworn to serve and protect, making sure that they've got the best training possible, but then bringing the community to the table to design and curate community-specific plans and strategies for peace that, in my experience, is what really makes the difference.

0:21:51.4 LL: All over the country following the murder of George Floyd, violent crime just went through the roof. Homicides, shootings, carjackings. We definitely experienced that in Chicago. '20 and '21 were very difficult years for us, even though we had finished '19 my first year under 500 homicides, which for Chicago was a record. We started thinking about, well, we've gotta be engaged in a different strategy 'cause what we're doing isn't working. We thought about borrowing a couple of pages from our COVID playbook. Hello, good to see you. And what we did is we brought, at COVID, what was successful is we brought stakeholders in neighborhoods together to work with us and think about how we could reach people and intervene using data and science. We use some of that same thought process in thinking about public safety. And we implemented that starting in the summer of '21. In '22, year over year, we focused on the 15 neighborhoods in Chicago that has historically driven 50% of the crime.

0:23:04.0 LL: In that one year's time, with the exception of three challenging neighborhoods, 12 of those 15, we saw remarkable progress. Homicides and shootings down, floor of 25%, and up to 50%. Neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago, for those of you who know Chicago at all, that have never known peace, started to see it and feel it because we engage with the community, literally on a block by block level, set up neighborhood councils, and brought what we called a whole of government approach. So if there was inadequate lighting somewhere, we fixed that. If the infrastructure was decaying, we fixed that. If there was a building or buildings on a block that became a haven for drug activity, we worked to fix that. We opened up green spaces for young people to be able to gather safely, all driven by what people in the community told us they needed and what worked. This whole of government approach, and then making sure that the police were being constitutional in the policing that they were doing, and focusing on the areas in the neighborhoods that the community told us that needed support, made a remarkable difference.

0:24:27.4 CW: And this was all... So now as you think about, so much of that was during your time as mayor.

0:24:32.0 LL: Yeah.

0:24:34.6 CW: During your time working with the Chicago Police Board, before we turn to your mayoral time, there's a lot of both optimism about things like police accountability boards, but there's also a lot of skepticism because of the exact things that I asked about, the culture and the structural dynamics. So I wonder, as cities across the country think about this, how do we create a structure of accountability? How do we create a structure of support? How do we create community policing and safety that is effective and just and fair and equitable and also respects the need for safety? What lessons would you offer?

0:25:20.2 LL: Well, that's a big question.

0:25:20.3 CW: Yeah.

0:25:25.0 LL: Number one, the police have to play a role in community safety. I'm not a defunder. I think that's a wrong strategy. And frankly, when you talk about defunding, all the work that's been done to diversify police departments, to bring in younger officers, to bring in more diverse officers from a demographic standpoint, to make sure that this next generation of officers are well-trained, given the vagaries of police contracts where it's reverse seniority when people get laid off, in most police departments, I would say 95%, if not higher, of the budget is personnel. So if you're talking about defunding, you're talking about getting rid of personnel. And who's the personnel you're gonna get rid of? The youngest, most diverse, best trained officers that departments have. The people that I think most of us believe are the problems and are most reticent to embrace the new normal, they're protected by the contracts. They're not going anywhere. So defunding, in my view, will not accomplish what the goal is.

0:26:38.3 CW: Or even shifting resources, 'cause so much of the defunding is moving the resources into kind of more public health.

0:26:43.2 LL: But to me, it doesn't have to be an either or circumstance. When I talk to people about defunding, and particularly when I was mayor, what I heard is, hey, we want the same focus and resources that you're putting on the police department to come to our neighborhoods. I say, agree, 100%. And so economic development can't take the place of making sure that you've got a robust police department. But also what people want is for the police department to respect them. There's a story that I heard when I was running the Police Accountability Task Force of a older black couple that lived on the west side of Chicago. There was a shooting that happened in their neighborhood. All these police resources, masks in the neighborhood, doing the investigation, looking for the shooter. They happened to look out their back window and they saw an individual climbing over their back fence. And they saw the glint of light on what looked like to them, a gun. They froze. They froze because they weren't sure that they should call 911. And they weren't sure because in their experience, in their neighborhood, they weren't sure that they would be believed. That should never, ever, ever be a consideration.

0:28:11.1 CW: Or they would be safe in their homes.

0:28:11.2 LL: Or that they would be safe if the police responded. We never should be in a situation where residents in a neighborhood that's under siege are worried that if they call the police, they won't be believed, they won't be safe. But we have to deal with that reality because that is a reality. This is an older black couple, this is young guys on the street who literally had pause as to whether or not they were gonna take their chances with the dude in their backyard with a gun or the police. That taught me a lot about the challenging dynamic of winning hearts and minds, creating an environment and a culture where people understood the appropriate role of the police, but importantly, in my view, is the police have the primary responsibility in that relationship to make sure that they are doing everything that they can to win the respect of people in those neighborhoods that they took an oath to protect and serve.

0:29:16.6 CW: So let's move on to your time as mayor.

0:29:17.4 LL: Yeah.

0:29:18.7 CW: What made you run?

0:29:22.4 LL: Well, a little bit crazy.

0:29:24.9 CW: Especially after doing the work you're doing. What made you decide, these aren't hard enough problems, I want bigger ones?

0:29:33.0 LL: Well, the work that I had done, particularly as police board president, but then also on a police accountability task force, was coming at a time where there was a spike in violence in Chicago. So this is '15 and '16. Those of you who may remember, there was a young man named Laquan McDonald that was killed in our city in 2014. The video of his murder was suppressed for almost a year. A little over a year. That video came out right before Thanksgiving in 2015. I was scared. I thought our city was going to go up in flames as we were seeing in other parts of the country. Luckily, that didn't happen, but the level of distrust and anger was palpable. And then the crime spiked. And I thought, what's going on in our city in this moment that is making this happen? And really started kind of asking some deep questions about what was going on. And what I could see was not just the tale of two cities, a tale of multiple cities within our city, where certain neighborhoods just weren't getting resources, weren't invested in, where young people were growing up, not knowing anybody who went to work every day because there were no jobs in those neighborhoods, where the quality of the schools was subpar.

0:31:05.5 LL: And again, not surprisingly, let's tell it what it is. These were black and brown, poor and working class neighborhoods that were not getting the attention from city hall that I felt like they deserved. Now, I didn't start, come to this realization and think, well, I'm gonna solve this, as I'm gonna run for mayor. I went to a lot of people that I knew had the attention of the then incumbent mayor and talked to them about urging him to come up with a plan to address this disparity. No one took me up on my urging. And I came to the conclusion that if the current mayor got a third term, our city was gonna get worse and it would come apart. And I started watching as the election got closer, people who were making noises about I'm gonna run. And frankly, none of them were really talking to what I thought was the most important issues, which is addressing this gross decades in the making, disparity in black and brown neighborhoods. And so as I started really analyzing this, I started thinking about what about me? It's not a place where I thought I was gonna be. When I raised the possibility for the first time with my wife, she literally wouldn't talk about it with me. So that took some doing, 'cause you can't embark upon something this big without having full support of your family and your friends.

0:32:43.1 LL: And so the more I thought about it, the more I started, and I'm an old trial lawyer, I believe in being prepared, it just felt like if I didn't do it, I'd probably regret it the rest of my life. And I don't like living my life with regrets. That was a two year plus process.

0:33:02.3 CW: Yeah. So the run would be historic. Chicago had not had a black mayor since Harold Washington. You're a woman. You're a lesbian. You are out. How did you think about opening yourself up and opening your life up with all of those intersectional, marginalized identities?

0:33:31.3 LL: Well, and I'm also a very private person. We had to spend a lot of time thinking about that, we, meaning my wife and I, and what impact that would have on us, what impact that would have on our family. And my daughter was still pretty young at the time. But after a lot of thought and a lot of prayer, I just believed that this was the right place for me to be at that moment. And to my surprise, for the most part, the various constituencies that I represented were not viewed as a negative by some, but for the most part. And I think that said a lot, frankly, about our city. It would have been impossible 10 years before I won, I ran, and maybe even five years before I ran, that somebody who represented so many different constituencies and demographics that I do could run on the merits and on the issues. Now, I'm not gonna say that, particularly in the runoff, my opponent tried to make it an issue, and particularly the fact that I was a lesbian and married to a white woman and lived on the North Side, which is not traditionally where black folks in the city live. That was out there front and center, no question about it. But I'm proud of the voters who saw past that, all those red herrings that were thrown out there, and made me the 56th mayor of the city.

0:35:04.9 CW: Yeah. So one of the pieces about identity is the way in which the run is historic, the way in which it is so meaningful, and the way in which people project their expectations on you. I wonder if you can talk about both sides of that coin, what it meant to people, but then also how people projected things onto you, the expectation.

0:35:33.0 LL: Well, it's interesting because I've been thinking a lot about that and kind of writing about that. I was, no one was more stunned than I was that I won 74% of the vote in every one of the 50 wards. And a lot of that was, I think I represented something different. Certainly I represented somebody who was not affiliated with old political order, not affiliated with machine politics, and ran on a platform of transparent, good government, ethics in government. You know, my first day I signed an executive order ending what was animating a lot of conversation, something called automatic prerogative. So I think people projected on me at the time their hopes and aspirations for a different kind of Chicago mayor, a different compact between city government and the governed. That was a good thing.

0:36:35.3 LL: But then I think people, some folks woke up and like, wait, she's black, she's a woman, and she's a lesbian. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. How did that happen? So I think with the benefit of hindsight, there were some who... And she wants to break up the status quo, no, we're not comfortable with that. Or I think more to the point, we don't want that, and we wanna stop that from happening. So I think as much as there was euphoria and a honeymoon initially when I was elected, there was definitely a moneyed, powerful element within the city that really started from day one, probably before the ink was dry on me signing my oath, that we're like, we've gotta stop this from happening. So and on the right and on the left. On the left, I wasn't progressive enough. People forgot who I was. I was now, by virtue of the fact that I now own the title, I was the man, so to speak, I became the enemy. I'm like, no, no, no, no, it's still me. It's still Lori, 74%, remember me? You liked me, nope. Now I'm the mayor.

0:37:49.3 CW: Unpack that if you would, because I mean that, to link the conversation around your work in the US Attorney's Office and with the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, there's a way in which we're reckoning with people of color being in power, but also being in power in positions that quite honestly are perceived to maintain sometimes status quo, reinforce systems, reinforce structures. A lot of the police force were people of color, so people in power. So can you talk about this question in dynamic when power comes in the form of a person of color and the balancing act and the struggle that that is? I mean, I think that one of the conversations in the presidential election was, Kamala Harris was a prosecutor. And this idea of people having some skepticism, some concern about that, and then you show up and say, I was a US attorney. I spent a lot of time with police. You ran a, kind of push reform. Talk us through that.

0:39:03.5 LL: The left called me, Lori the Cop. And the right was, I'm this person who wants to handcuff the police and not let them do their job. So the dynamic, and it plays out, basically any topic that you can think about now where there are such extremes on either side, and if you're not there or not there, but you're somewhere squarely in the middle, which is where the vast majority of Americans are, you're demonized by the loud voices on either side. And that definitely happened to me. There's no question about it. But my view was I knew why I was there. I knew what my value system was, what my North star was, what I wanted to try to accomplish, and I just wasn't gonna let the noise move me away from the things that I knew were important to impact the lives of people who were growing up in families like mine. That's why I ran. I ran to help the young Lori Lightfoots out there, the people that I knew in my neighborhood that were working class and just wanted to live their life in peace and happiness and have a future and be able to pass it down to their kids and build wealth. That's why I ran. And you can't ignore the noise entirely, but you can't let it define your every movement. At least I felt strongly that I couldn't.

0:40:45.5 CW: What would you say were some of your proudest moments and best accomplishments during that time as mayor?

0:40:56.0 LL: Look, there's a lot of things that I could name, but I would say my proudest moments were when I went into a classroom or when I went into a park and I saw a kid whose eyes lit up because they recognized me as their mayor. I can't tell you the number of times that I went into spaces across my city where people told me they'd never seen a mayor in their neighborhood on their street on their block, or hadn't seen one since Harold Washington. That made me sad in some ways, but it also made me incredibly proud.

0:41:44.8 CW: One of the things we prepare our students for is leading in crisis, and you had no shortage of them as Mayor?

0:41:50.7 LL: Indeed.

0:41:54.3 CW: Let's start with COVID-19. Take us back to that time, and walk us through how as a crisis manager you came to shape what would be your COVID response as mayor.

0:42:13.0 LL: Well, first of all, most mayors when they come to office don't know the first thing about public health. And I was one of them. I've worked on some issues here and there, but I really didn't understand or appreciate public health. Thank goodness we had an incredible public health leader in the form of Dr. Allison Arwady, who carried all of us on her shoulders through COVID. Had a public health department who was incredibly prepared. And if I can, as an aside, I want to introduce, Christina Anderson. Stand up, Christina. Christina worked in the Department of Public Health, was basically the chief of staff to the commissioner, organized us through thick and thin, had work come from the police department. We rescued her, brought her into the mayor's office and sent her to Department of Public Health. And she's now the chief of staff for your secretary of state. So, Christina, thank you. Thanks for all you've done.


0:43:17.3 LL: But how you manage as a leader is you got to have really great, smart, committed people around you. You can have the vision and you can work tirelessly to turn that vision into reality. But where the rubber meets the road is people like Christina and other colleagues across city government coming together and uniting and understanding what we needed to do to save lives in our city. Never faced a challenge like that before in my life, and frankly, I hope I never do again. But we worked diligently understanding the data following the science. And in the early days of COVID, you know this, we didn't know a lot. What we knew was that COVID was deadly and it spread like wildfire, but not a lot beyond that. I taught a class last week, and there was a clip of me in a press conference from early April of 2020.

0:44:22.8 LL: Nobody was wearing masks then. Within a couple weeks that all changed. We did not wear a mask. We started the social distancing, the stay home save lives campaigns that were prevalent all across the country. It was such an evolving and changing landscape. And I said this earlier today, we also as city leaders we're working in a world where the federal government wasn't anywhere for us. There was an incident that happened, and I'll share it. It was late January, and on a Friday afternoon, the White House issued an edict that all flights coming from Wuhan Province and China were gonna be directed to initially seven, and then 11 airports in the country. And O'Hare was one of the airports. And what we were told is that anybody coming off of one of those planes had to quarantine for 14 days.

0:45:27.1 LL: Well, there was a lot about that that left and opened up a lot of questions. We started asking, well, quarantine for 14 days, under what order? And you're talking about people coming off planes into local jurisdictions, who is going to say to them, you have to stay someplace for 14 days? And where are they staying? And by the way, who's paying for that? And what if they say, I feel fine, 'cause as we later learn COVID, there were people who carried COVID that were asymptomatic. No, no, no, I'm fine. I'm going home. What would we do in those circumstances? And the more questions we ask, the more we dug into it, the more it was clear that the folks who made this decision hadn't fought through a single one of these questions. So, as I said, this was issued on a Friday night.

0:46:26.3 LL: By Saturday midday, we still didn't have any answers. I convened a conference call of all the mayors that were affected by this, and they were experiencing the same frustration. And many of them we found out we were talking to the same people from the federal government, whether it was DHS, HHS or the White House, and getting different answers from the same people. It was a disaster. But what that meant then was it was real clear, unlike other circumstances, particularly public health crises, where the CDC comes in, takes control, tells everybody else what to do, that was not gonna happen. The CDC was sidelined. These decisions were being made in a White House, they were being made at DHS, and to a small extent HHS. Wrong people, wrong seat on the bus. And we were left to pick up the pieces. So on the one hand, as a local leader, that was a little terrifying, but it also frankly gave us the opportunity to speak to the needs of our residents in a very direct way. Again, we were flying a little bit without a net, because the crisis was evolving. But we looked to other cities, other countries, frankly, Germany was really a leader during that time period, and learned a lot about fighting this fight for ourselves. And it gave us tremendous opportunities that in normal circumstances we may not have otherwise had.

0:47:58.4 CW: And it's such a interesting example, 'cause I can imagine people were angry with you, and I remember the memes when don't go, the kind of shelter in place orders and having to reinforce it and having to say, this is how we're gonna think about this early stage. And you have to as a leader steel yourself in that moment. Can you talk to us about having to steel yourself even when there's a lot of uncertainty as to what you are grounding your statements in or actually based in the science, because we just didn't know.

0:48:37.7 LL: So those of you who followed this well may remember the experience of Italy, and particularly northern Italy. It was a disaster. The response was woefully inadequate. And Italians, particularly older Italians, were dying at an unbelievable rate. There was a lot of work going on to understand what was happening in Italy. So my public health commissioner and her deputy came to see me in late February, early March. And they had been working with some of the universities in Argonne Labs and doing some projections and modeling about where we were in the arc of our build, our history with COVID-19. And what they told me in that meeting was based upon the work that they had done, we were on the same trajectory in Chicago as Italy. That was terrifying. And so I knew that we had to take some immediate steps to address the problem.

0:49:47.9 LL: So one of the toughest meetings that I recall during those early days was bringing in all the people who benefited from our convention and tourism business, which was enormous. We have one of the largest convention sitters in the world in Chicago. Lots of people are fed through that work, through the shows that came in. And to tell them that we were shutting down our convention and tourism business in our city, a lot of grown men, lot of rough and tumble trade union members, I had to tell them that they were out of work. That was tough, really tough.

0:50:28.1 CW: And you went to the belly of the beast.

0:50:28.9 LL: Because there was no safety net for them.

0:50:33.2 CW: Right. Tell me about that moment and that conversation.

0:50:37.1 LL: Well, I just told them, I showed them the data, talked to them about what the trajectory that we were on, and that if we didn't do something dramatic to keep people home and not gather in these large groups, that we were gonna lose a lot of lives, including maybe them, maybe their members. They got it intellectually, but that was not the news that they were expecting to hear. And promised to, which we did, work with them to figure out a path forward to make sure that we were continuing to be in contact and communicate and being transparent about what we were doing and why we were doing it. And hoping frankly that we would be able to open back up sooner rather than later. As it turned out, obviously we were closed down for a long time, and frankly, a lot of the groups that were organizing the conventions, the big business meetings, their members didn't want any part of large gatherings because it became clear that that was a source of spreading the disease.

0:51:44.5 LL: And at that time, there was no vaccine on the horizon. But that was a really, really tough moment. Another tough moment, testing in Chicago and maybe other places was like the wild, wild west in the early days, everybody and their brother was trying to set up testing and make a profit off of my cynical view of people's fears. But what they weren't doing is doing it in a way that had integrity, that was following the public health guidance. They weren't collecting enough demographic information early on for us to be able to understand who was being most impacted by the testing data. In fact, we had to issue, Dr. Arwady already issued an order to require anybody who was doing testing to collect that demographic information. Lots of issues with the testing. But when that first wave of demographic information started coming in, what we learned was that black people in Chicago were dying at seven times the rate of any other demographic in our city.

0:52:49.0 LL: That was like a gut punch. That's when it becomes real and personal. But I knew I couldn't just put that information out there without having some specific solutions. So very long story short, we partnered up with a number of community health organizations that have been doing life expectancy gap work, and work with them to go into neighborhoods that were most badly hit by COVID and where people were dying the most. We called it the Racial Equity Rapid Response team. A mouthful to be sure. But working with those community leaders at that early stage gave us legitimacy in spaces across our city that we probably wouldn't have been able to get into without those community leaders, and that infrastructure that we built in those early days. We then were able to mobilize that to do contact tracing.

0:53:56.1 LL: We stood up a 600 person community heath worker cohort using those resources. When the vaccine came, we went to that same group of community leaders and worked together to put what I think is the most equitable vaccine distribution plan in the country. My mantra through COVID was no temporary scaffolding. Everything that we did, I wanted it to be intentional. I wanted to make sure that we were thinking thoughtfully about how we could, the investments that we were making, the decisions that we were making, not just in the moment, but looking at that chess board, multiple steps down the game to make sure that we were utilizing resources at a high level that we could then turn to over and over again.

0:54:51.9 CW: In the course of all of this, George Floyd is murdered. Conversations about Breonna Taylor, Castile, just throughout the country, a conversation, globally on policing. You're back in the policing conversation. And the protests in Chicago are significant. Talk to us about how you navigated the obvious questions around policing, race, but also protest. And how you managed, or how you think you managed the protest process as that played out.

0:55:26.4 LL: So let me take those one at a time. After we got past the protest, and I wanna go back and talk about that 'cause that was another one of those circumstances I hope I never experience again. There was a big push, particularly nationally, to get a pretty massive police reform package over the finish line. As we now know, it never happened. There's a concept in policing called de-escalation, and in the pillars of de-escalation are time and distance. And what it means is not react, not escalate, but work with the person. Give them the sufficient time and distance and hope that you can de-escalate the issues. That was the approach that I took to this massive push to completely upend policing as we knew it.

0:56:30.8 LL: There were some things about it that I thought were really, really good, but I thought there were some things about it that were really dangerous. It was hard to offer nuance in those discussions at the time. So my view was I wasn't gonna be like my friend Eric Garcetti in LA, or my friend Bill de Blasio in New York, and move so quickly that we would miss the nuance. Because to me, as a public policy geek, that's where you really make a big difference and have lasting change is in that nuance, the gray. So there were things that we did, and frankly, I had started doing police reform work from the very beginning of my tenure, having worked with the police department, I had a pretty good idea of what we needed to do to really kickstart the reform.

0:57:27.0 LL: Plus the Chicago Police Department was under a consent decree. So there were a lot of things that were mandated by the consent decree. But striking that balance, making sure all voices are heard. And I also, given what we were experiencing that summer, I knew that I couldn't lose the police. Meaning, I couldn't have them showing up for work and doing nothing as we saw frankly happen I think in many places across the country. So a very delicate balance, carefully calibrated and not easy to implement because there was a huge push for change to come, change to come now, which I understood, but I wanted to do it in a way that we wouldn't regret it down the road. But the other thing that was going on simultaneously with this, was these very violent protest. We were seeing in Chicago, kind of like a three-legged stool, peaceful protest that got hijacked by vigilantes that came for a fight with the police. And then, organized retail theft crews that would take advantage of the chaos and looting of stores, really destroying small businesses really all across our city.

0:58:54.0 LL: It was a very, very difficult time. We saw, frankly, police officers forget their training, take the bait, get into physical confrontations with protesters and frankly not respect their first Amendment rights, which is a huge problem.

0:59:13.3 CW: And all of this is being probably photographed and videotaped.

0:59:15.2 LL: All of it is on video. The people who were not the Chicagoans who came to these protests, and I've been in many protests in my day, many marches for one cause or another. I never came to a protest with a baseball bat, a tire arm, frozen bottles of urine, firearms. And we were seeing this on a regular basis in these protests that played out at the end of May into June and July. That was a lot. A lot to manage, and it was happening all over the city, simultaneously seemed like every day four weeks at a time. Though that was a tough, tough time to manage and keep the peace, protect the protesters who had an absolute right to pursuant to the First Amendment to protest whatever it is that they wanted to protest, make sure officers were safeguarding them, but also doing their jobs. And then safeguarding against these organized crews of retail theft and others at a time also when shootings, carjackings and homicides were spiking.

1:00:37.9 CW: And in all of this, you also have to think about the economic engine of the city. I wonder if you can comment on that either during, not just during the COVID time, but throughout your administration, education and schools, and they're dealing with the teacher strike, et cetera, and kind of larger quality of life issues that people expect of their city, their mayors, et cetera. I wonder if you can comment on any or all of those three and how you kept those ships afloat while all of this was happening.

1:01:10.0 LL: Well, I'll say what I said before, which is you have to have a good, smart, empathetic, passionate, committed team. No mayor, certainly not of a city the size and complexity of Chicago can do, keep all of those things going in a productive way by herself. It's impossible. So making sure you set the vision that you select the right people with the right skill sets, and then empower them to do their jobs, but also hold them accountable for the work that they're doing. I believe in collaborative governance. And so we spent a lot of time working together, learning how to work together, breaking down silos and making sure that we were checking in with each other emotionally. That was a really, really difficult, stressful time. When you think about from the end of February, end of March when COVID is at its height, dealing with all of that, we had about a two week window before George Floyd was murdered, and then sets off a whole new stage of activity, the stress and burdens that we were all carrying during that time. As a leader, you also have to care about your people as human beings and making sure that they're engaging in self-care which I'm a big proponent of. That was a lot. That summer in those six months, probably some of the most difficult times in my life.

1:02:48.8 CW: I suspect we might have some students in the audience who are listening to this and saying to themselves, there is no way I would sign up for something like that. And I wonder if you can talk about the power of doing hard things anyway, even when you're scared, even when it's not convenient, I wonder if you can talk about that.

1:03:10.1 LL: 'Cause it's most... You do it if you believe in public service as a vehicle for changing the trajectory of people's lives, transforming cities. I think you do it if you believe in democracy as I do. And I'm very concerned about our democracy and in this part in our, point in our civic life. But there's nothing more satisfying when you come together. You work as a team, you work hard, and you accomplish a goal on behalf of people. When you see the light go on in people's lives, when you know that you've done something that makes a difference, that is incredibly powerful.

1:03:58.8 CW: We're gonna turn to the student questions, but before we do, I wonder if you can pick up that thread of democracy. If you can talk about where you see us as a country, where you see us in larger conversations around the power of government, the importance of government, public service as we head into a presidential election cycle. I wonder if you can talk about the power of democracy and why you're concerned.

1:04:29.5 LL: Well, I'm very concerned right now, and I've been concerned frankly for a while, and long before a certain someone came down the escalators in 2015. I think the winds of dissension that were pulling us apart were very much in play. And I think what's happened in the intervening time period is, it's become acceptable to demonize anybody who has a different point of view on any topic. What I see too much is if you do not subscribe to my specific point of view on a topic, then you're the enemy. If you do not believe what I believe, then we have no basis for common ground, compromise has, I think, become a dirty word. And if you think about the origins of our country, and you think about the pillars that make us different as a democracy than other places, it is built upon collaboration and compromise. And yet what we see played out on a daily basis is everything but that. You know, I'll pick on an issue that's in the news these days. Funding for Ukraine, funding for Israel and the border. Now, I'm not gonna say that I agree with everything that was put together in the Senate package, but there was some markers that were laid down, particularly by the House Republicans, that this is what's gonna be needed to do this, this, and this. That goal was met, and now the goalpost has been moved again.

1:06:20.6 CW: And I bet as a mayor or former mayor, you're really thinking about, say that immigration package, because now we're seeing increasingly mayors all over the country grappling with immigration from New York to Chicago to... This is, it's a national policy debate, but it's a very local Issue.

1:06:46.2 LL: Well, what I would say is that as a local mayor, you don't have time for nonsense, right? Our residents expect us to deliver now. Not tomorrow, not down the road but now. And it could be everything as mundane from making sure the streets are cleared after a snowstorm to dealing with public safety, to making sure that our kids are able to learn in a safe and productive environment in schools. As a local leader, the expectations for excellence and immediacy are very, very high. And what goes on in Washington is so much nonsense the people sitting around their kitchen table expecting government to actually function. So the level of dysfunction, disagreement that goes on in Washington DC that gets perpetuated in a bubble on the cable news stations is a distraction to what people would, are really thinking in a here and now. And as a local mayor, you gotta deliver. And so when you depend though on the federal government for funding, when you depend upon the federal government for policies that are gonna help your community reach its objectives, and they continually don't deliver, then you have to be creative and think about how you get it for yourself.

1:08:15.2 CW: Madison, and Katrina, to you.

1:08:19.7 Katrina Wheelan: Thank you so much for having us. We have quite a few questions, so we're gonna talk about your first...

1:08:21.2 LL: Can you just speak Up a little bit?

1:08:24.3 KW: Yes. So connecting to your team in your comment, we have a question. How do you assemble and motivate a team that is effective and crisis ready?

1:08:34.1 LL: Well, hopefully you're not assembling that team in the middle of the crisis. That's kind of like building a plane and trying to fly it at the same time. You come into office with a vision for what you wanna accomplish, and you have a sense of what the major issues are. And I think you build the core competency of your team around those issues. And frankly, looking for people that have a level of flexibility and capabilities to be able to adapt to a changing environment. As I said, I came into office knowing very little about public health, and certainly not thinking that this global pandemic was on the horizon. But thankfully, we already had a team of people at our public health department that were ready and prepared for the unknown. And the unknown was virtually every day for the first couple weeks of couple months of this pandemic. But what I knew about the rest of my team that also had to, 'cause this was all hands on deck moment that I had really smart, capable people who were able to think about logistics, they were able to think about and work on gathering community together and think about messaging and outreach. All of the things that you need to calm people, to tell them the truth, even when it was hard to hear and deliver concrete solutions. We had those things in place and we were very fortunate.

1:10:15.4 Madison Prinzing: So you've talked a little bit about COVID and how you had to coordinate with both the federal government and the state government. Can you talk a little bit more about what it's like to coordinate with other levels of government, particularly with the state during COVID?

1:10:28.7 LL: Challenging. Challenging. I think you asked us some more question earlier today. I paid a lot of attention to what my counterparts were doing across the country, and the dynamics between mayors and governors. And in some states, they were of the same party and in other states, they were not. I paid attention a lot to, of course, how the coast were responding to the challenges of COVID, pardon me. And in particular to San Francisco and San Francisco County. They got hit, I think, first and hardest of any other location. I can remember when Mayor London Breed signed her very expansive, stay at home order, got a copy, read it, and I thought, holy smokes, we could never do this in Chicago. Well, guess what? We did it like three weeks later, almost verbatim. So really paying attention to what's happening elsewhere. But one of the things that I paid a lot of attention to was kind of the daily slug fest between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. And I just felt like at a time when we are facing this existential threat, when people are fearful about leaving their home and going to the grocery store, doing anything in their daily lives. And by the way, and we were telling them, don't do any of that 'cause that's not safe.

1:12:25.1 LL: They deserved us, the governor and I to be the adults in the room, to be stable and to make sure that they could count on us and that they could have confidence in us. There were a lot of things that we did not agree on, but in public, I'll say from my part, I made sure that where we could be aligned, we were aligned, and they were communicating that confidence and that alignment to the public. And I think that served our residents well. But it's complicated, and particularly public health is, anybody who knows anything about the public health system, it's incredibly fractured all across the country. Local public health departments, it's usually at the county level have unbelievable amounts of power. Which frankly we saw this recognition in some states and then people racing in their state legislatures to peel back that power of local public health authorities. But it was important for us to be as aligned as we possibly could and not speaking with different voices and saying different things and confusing residents and business owners. It was really important that we collaborate as much as possible.

1:13:45.7 KW: So the migrant issue has been talked about. We have a few questions regarding what you would recommend to mayors in the migrant crisis right now?

1:13:56.7 LL: Well, it's something obviously that I spent a huge amount of time on. We got the first buses in Chicago, August 31st, '22, which was a total surprise because there was no collaboration. It was just we got wind that some buses were coming. We didn't know who, we weren't even clear from where. And we had to spring into action quickly. We are a sanctuary city in Chicago, happened since the early '80s started under Mayor Harold Washington. And I just believe that if you look at the waves of immigrants who would come to our city over the centuries, that we shouldn't treat this next wave of migrants who were here in the country legally any differently than we had treated people who came in the 1800s or early 1900s.

1:15:03.4 LL: I think the challenge that cities are facing right now are multiple, but there's a solution that I think could relieve some of the pressure. I just think that if you let people into the country legally, as the migrants that are coming to cities are, that you have a responsibility to also give them the power to work. Not allowing migrants the ability to work or having this lengthy, in some instances, years long process is adding to the tension that we see playing out in cities all across the country and frankly is costing cities and states untold amounts of money. When I left office last May, we were at a burn rate of over $20 million a month. That's a lot of money. Even more migrants have come to Chicago since then. I can only imagine that the burn rate is probably closer to 30, 35 million a month. That is not sustainable. And a big part of that is you stand up these shelter systems and the concept of shelters is you bring people in, you help them get stable, you move them on and help them move to other kinds of more permanent housing. But there's an outflow.

1:16:26.2 LL: If migrants aren't able to work, where are they going? They can't pay for food, they can't pay for shelter. There won't be outflow. And so what's we've seen in cities like Chicago and New York, in DC, Denver Phoenix, other places is the migrants effectively become wards of the city. That is not a sustainable process. So I think mayors have to keep lobbying the federal government to step up and accelerate the process for getting people a work permit. I think the federal government has an absolute responsibility for sending more dollars to cities and states to help with this crisis. And then in the long term, there's gotta be a more concentrated effort to look at the root causes of why is it that people are fleeing their homeland, their home country to come to a different place that they don't know, and in many instances don't have any familial or other connection to, and what can be done to stabilize those countries?

1:17:43.8 LL: So it's gotta be a multi-tiered strategy, some of which local mayors can impact. But we all have bully pulpits, we all have federal delegations, and I think we've gotta continue the work that frankly was started by mayors in '22 when this ridiculous process started. But I also think, frankly, the federal government has gotta sue Greg Abbott and for preempting the federal government's unique province to regulate immigration in our country. There can't be any more timidity. There's gotta be a concerted effort not to just react, but to stop him in his tracks and what he's doing.

1:18:29.0 LL: I saw too many people come to my city who were sick and had to be immediately rushed to the hospital. Women that literally got off the bus, walked into a shelter and gave birth. People who were forced to travel with their abusers and human trafficking situations. People are not freight. People are not fungible. What's happened in this process is humanity of the individuals has been lost. That's not who we are as a country and we can't tolerate that. No matter the color of the skin or the country of origin, it's not right. And if we are really a democracy, if we are that shining light across the world, then this is our moment to prove that by making sure that we are treating these people who come to our shores, that we are letting in our country, we treat them with dignity and humanity. And we have not done that. Not nearly in the way that we should.

1:19:39.8 MP: You spent some... I'm in... Sorry. So you spent some time in the city of Detroit, and a couple people have asked about parallels between Chicago and Detroit. So other lessons from Chicago's history for Detroit or vice versa?

1:19:52.8 LL: So it's a question. What's the parallels between Chicago and Detroit?

1:19:56.0 MP: Are there lessons from one city for the other?

1:19:57.6 LL: There's a lot of... Frankly, I think there's a lot of lessons from Detroit that we learned in Chicago. Many of the challenges that Detroit is facing in its neighborhoods are almost the same challenges that we face in Chicago and in many of our neighborhoods. And so a lot of the innovation that we're seeing happening in Detroit, we are doing in Chicago and I think vice versa. It's not a secret that the planning commissioner in Detroit came to Chicago and a lot of the ideas that he incubated in Detroit, he brought with him. And we used those in our efforts to revitalize neighborhoods in Chicago. We're different than Detroit. We're bigger, obviously. We're, I think, more diverse than Detroit. We've got a more robust economy 'cause it's much more diverse economy. We have more colleges and universities which means innovation, technology, arts, and culture that is different, but there's a lot of similarities. There's a reason why I talk to Mike Duggan on a regular basis, not just because he was my old RD here at Michigan. But I think there's a lot that we can learn from each other.

1:21:25.3 KW: Can you talk about lessons learned from the Expedited Housing Initiative and other programs implemented during COVID?

1:21:31.2 LL: Say that again? I'm sorry.

1:21:32.8 KW: Can you talk about lessons learned from the Expedited Housing Initiative and other programs implemented during COVID?

1:21:42.9 LL: People have said to me over and over again, it's too bad that you were mayor during COVID because you weren't able to accomplish the things that you really wanted to accomplish. In many ways, that couldn't be further from the truth. COVID gave us, I think, the ability to start the process of righting many historic wrongs. Whether it was around housing, whether it was around public health, whether it was around economic investments mental health, substance addiction, you name it. All of those needs were flashing like neon signs during COVID. And in my view, we ignored them at our peril. So, Dean, you asked earlier, people started getting angry. We didn't experience that early on in Chicago. We actually had a lot of public support for the things that we were doing.

1:22:45.9 LL: And the practical reality was we couldn't go and solve and mitigate against COVID if we didn't solve and mitigate for the challenges that people were telling me that they were facing. So I mentioned earlier that early on in April of 2020, we saw this horrible statistic of Black folks dying at seven times the rate of any other demographic in our city. The area that was kind of ground zero for that is a neighborhood called Auburn Gresham. So we assembled this team, the Racial Equity racial equity folks, we went into Auburn Gresham and we said, We're here to help. We wanna help you with the challenges that you're facing in COVID. Alright. Well, that's good, but what we really need is we need food. We're a food desert. We need to make sure that our people have healthy, sustainable access to food. And so sure enough, the team came back, looked at the calls for 311 and the other data and one of the leading calls for service was for food.

1:24:02.2 LL: So by listening to this community, not going in with preconceived notions but addressing their immediate need, it bought us a lot of legitimacy and space to do these other things that were important. And housing, I don't know any city, large, small, medium where affordability and housing isn't an issue. Huge issue in Chicago. It's why we made a billion dollar commitment in affordable housing. And if those projects come online in the way that they should, it will be the first time in recent memory maybe ever, that Chicago has taken a step towards desegregating our city.

1:24:48.2 CW: I'd like to go to a lightning round, unless there is one more question.

1:24:53.2 MP: We have one lightning lighthearted question, which is, what's your favorite place to eat in Chicago?


1:25:00.3 CW: That's a good question.

1:25:01.0 LL: It depends on the mood. I'm very much of what do I feel and think? Look, I'm a carnivore on a bashed, so we have a number of great steak restaurants in Chicago, which I've frequented probably most of them. I love a variety of ethnic food from Indian to Middle Eastern, Italian, Asian of various sorts. So Chicago, if you like to eat, there's something for everyone. The food is phenomenal. We're just ending restaurant week. So, my wife and I have tried to go to as many places that we hadn't been to. But there's a reason why we are getting praise for the innovative food and restaurant tours that are opening up in Chicago, but something for everybody.

1:25:50.9 CW: So I wanna close by asking you, as I mentioned, a kind of lightning round of questions. So kind of the first thing that comes to your mind as I ask you these things. The thing I gained from being mayor of Chicago, the mayor... The experience. What did you gain?

1:26:10.1 LL: A lot of humility and an experience of a lifetime.

1:26:15.0 CW: What did you give up?

1:26:18.2 LL: Privacy.

1:26:21.9 CW: What was the thing you were most likely to think about at 3:00 AM?

1:26:27.0 LL: I didn't wake up at 3:00 AM unless somebody called me.

1:26:29.3 CW: What were they most likely calling about?

1:26:31.5 LL: A shooting. Shootings happen often in the middle of the night in far-flung places. Those were the calls that I got in the middle of the night.

1:26:46.2 CW: A do over if I had the opportunity.

1:26:50.3 LL: You know, people ask me some version of that question all the time. And usually it's phrased as, "Do you have any regrets?" I'm not a person who live my life with regrets, but I do feel like I try to learn from every experience. I try to make the best decisions that I can in the moment and I hope I created a culture within my team in the mayor's office, where people felt comfortable saying, don't do that or, go this way, not that way. But with the benefit of hindsight, you always think, Well, I probably should have done that a little bit differently. I should have said that a little bit differently. But like I said, I don't spend a lot of time dwelling on regrets. I just try to learn from my experiences.

1:27:39.2 CW: When the history books are written about my administration, I want them to write...

1:27:45.2 LL: Well, that's another tough question. My ego doesn't run in that way. I did the work because I wanted to help people. And I feel like my legacy, history will be written by the people whose lives were directly affected. The kids that we helped, the elders that we helped, the lives that were saved throughout and frankly through the investments that we made. And really fundamentally talking about the relationship between the city, the mayor and the people in a fundamentally different way.

1:28:24.8 CW: The repair for the extreme polarization that you previously talked about is?

1:28:35.8 LL: I think that we have to figure out ways to build bridges to each other for people to come to us and for us to travel to them. And that is easier said than done, I certainly recognize. But I don't think we reward people who are the most extreme, the most outrageous and who are demonizing each other on a regular basis. We've gotta teach our kids about democracy, and we've gotta get people to participate in ways that move things forward, that are productive thinking about and really embracing the fact that people come to discussions in good faith. But what we see played out what gets those viral moments at the local school board meeting or the library board with the book bans and all that nonsense. If that is who we have become, our democracy's doomed I don't believe our democracy is doomed. I have optimism. I have concerns, but I have optimism. I just think too many good people are on the sidelines. And not willing to engage or afraid to engage for fear of being that target. And so for those of us who have a voice that have a platform that believe as I do that we have to compromise, we have to collaborate, I think we have an even greater obligation in this moment to do so and stand up and not be afraid of being taped. Not be afraid of somebody saying something untoward. And that goes with the territory. We gotta be brave and bold in this moment.

1:30:22.7 CW: My last question. What's next for Lori Lightfoot?

1:30:31.1 LL: A couple things with these many months off have helped me recognize is the importance of continuing to engage in community. I started a not-for-profit that launched a couple weeks ago where we are helping community-based organizations build capacity, strengthen their infrastructure, because I believe that one of the ways that you create healthy, vibrant, strong neighborhoods is through community-based organizations. So I'm looking forward to that. That's one of the things I'm doing that I'm probably most excited about. And we've gotten some great initial funding but as I tell my team all the time, now's the time we ought to kick it into gear and perform. I will probably write a book of some sort about my time as mayor. I've been spending a lot of time on high school benches, cheering my daughter on as she plays JV basketball and working the refs. So I'll continue to do that and be more present but also just I'm embracing being a private citizen again and getting my life back.

1:31:36.7 CW: Mayor Lori Lightfoot, it has been a pleasure, a joy and an honor to talk to you today. Thank you so much. Thank you so much.


1:31:58.5 CW: Thank you so much to our students, Madison and Katrina, and on behalf of the Ford School of Public Policy, thank you for joining us.

1:32:05.2 LL: Thank you all.