Lori Lightfoot Can’t Use Her Identity to Shield Criticism
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Lori Lightfoot Can’t Use Her Identity to Shield Criticism

The Chicago mayor needs to get real about about her ineffective leadership

On Saturday night, the mayor of Chicago found herself the subject of rumors that made her sound like the perfect candidate for a future Mona Scott Young production.

According to Chicago Tribune, activist Ja’Mal Green, a critic of Lightfoot, tweeted then deleted a message indicating that Lightfoot was planning to leave office.

On Sunday, Green tweeted that he was “sorry” for helping to spread the rumor. “I know Lori is mad that folks have started rumors and I’m sorry I helped by saying she’s resigning but the reality is, we’ve been lied to since the beginning of this administration,” Green wrote on Twitter. “So much that the people have lost hope. 73% of Chicagoans think we’re on the wrong path!”

When I woke up on Sunday morning and did my morning ritual of checking out the trending topics on Twitter with the hopes that it won’t depress me (I usually fail this goal), I happened to come across the Lightfoot rumors. Something about her resigning in light of a cheating scandal. And something else about some sort of big-ass house.

Forgive me for not remembering the details of shit people on Twitter made up, but folks fired off jokes about the gossip at Lightfoot’s expense. As Green mentioned, Lightfoot was less than thrilled about her name being mentioned in a rumor centered on a politically devastating love triangle.

On Sunday morning, Lightfoot hopped on Twitter and declared “our city doesn’t have any time for homophobic, racist and misogynistic rumors, today or any day.”

Lightfoot added, “It’s shocking and disappointing to see some media members and verified Twitter handles are peddling this trash as truth.” Already sounding too sanctimonious for comfort given the source in question, Lightfoot went on to sour my mood further by continuing with: “Anyone who wants to work with me to make progress, I’m ready. Even if we don’t always see eye to eye, if you actually love this city and want to be part of making it better, let’s do the work.”

Her tweets ended with the assurance that she will not be resigning as mayor, despite real calls for her to go based not on the rumor mill, but her record as mayor.

Lightfoot signifies change in the aesthetics of power, but she wields it a lot like every other menacing politician that protects those who attack the most vulnerable.

I don’t want to diminish another Black queer person’s feelings of being subjected to racism, homophobia, and/or misogyny, but it’s hard to tolerate lectures from Lori Lightfoot on anything related to truth, decency, or community. It’s even more insufferable stemming from her being tight about some silly rumors that she hadn’t even been formally asked about by journalists. And as Chicago Tribune reporters Gregory Pratt and John Byrne share in their reporting on Lightfoot’s reaction, “It’s rare for elected officials to publicly respond to unsubstantiated rumors unless reporters ask about them at a news conference.”

Lightfoot’s approach to this rumor differs from another about her last summer, and as Pratt and Bryne write, her “unorthodox decision to address the tweets opens the door to more of the public finding out about the rumors than otherwise would have.”

This could be merely my cynicism showing, but I get the sense a politician is playing up an obvious BS rumor out of political expediency.

After all, her response did manage to get support from the social media account of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization designed to recruit, train, and elect out public officials at every level in all 50 states.

This is certainly a way to score more favorable headlines, but the idea of a cheating rumor that never went anywhere being compared to QAnon is too goofy for me to sit silent about.

I understand that Lori Lightfoot is a Black lesbian who became the mayor of Chicago; by default, she is walking history. I know that no matter how much power Lightfoot acquires, she remains a Black queer woman and will always be subjected to some form of marginalization. And it’s important for us to always stand against prejudice.

Still, how convenient for Lightfoot to talk about prejudice when it’s politically beneficial to her. Then there are her own actions to consider. This is a Black woman who sees Black people rightfully angry about how we are treated by law enforcement and literally closes parts of the city on them.

That is not someone that welcomes people committed to progress.

If “Fort Lori” doesn’t convince you that a fraud is before us, there’s also the new warning Lightfoot sent to potential protestors while a Minnesota jury deliberated in the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd last summer.

“Don’t test us. Don’t test us. We are ready. We are prepared, and we are ready to arrest and bring to prosecution anyone who would dare try to take the dreams of our small businesses by looting,” she said on Tuesday morning.

These are not the words of a person concerned with community; these are the cold-hearted threats of a co-conspirator.

Mayor Lightfoot never has such strong language for the police officers who treat Black and queer folks far worse than their White counterparts. Lightfoot, who ran for office on a platform of police reform and racial justice, is the same person who admitted that she had known about the botched police raid on Anjanette Young’s home a lot earlier than initially claimed. Her more recent handling of the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo is no less reprehensible.

The mayor was rightly called out for attacking the character of Toledo, the child victim. What kind of person does that? What kind of public official does this? The rumors of the past weekend may not reflect Lightfoot’s true character, but her record as mayor is more difficult to shrug off. Green might’ve owed Lightfoot an apology for his role in the rumors, but I don’t fault anyone for wanting her to leave office.

Lori Lightfoot is what happens when we conflate blanket representation with meaningful progress. Or as scholar and writer Dr. Steven Thrasher more eloquently put it, “Lori Lightfoot is a case study in the difference between identity politics and the cynical exploitation of a cheap politics of representation.” Lightfoot signifies change in the aesthetics of power, but she wields it a lot like every other menacing politician that protects those who attack the most vulnerable.

To this Black queer person, that makes the significance of her job title lacking when it comes to progress that matters the most in people’s lives. But now that she has confirmed she’s not a cheater moving into some big house after she flees office, perhaps all people for equality can switch focus back to all the unsavory things we know to be true about Mayor Lightfoot and the people who suffer as a result.