Sunday, March 24, 2019

Lori Lightfoot: From high school point guard to ‘kickass trial lawyer’

Lori Lightfoot
     Chicago has a mayoral election April 2, pitting powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle against Lori Lightfoot, who had served on two police boards and a few other public roles, but didn't have much public imprint. At least from my perspective. I had interviewed Preckwinkle many times, done stories with her, eaten breakfast with her. Lightfoot I had never met until we sat down to talk for this assignment, which was challenging for a number of reasons.       
     First, I was paired with Lauren FitzPatrick, an excellent investigative and education reporter, and I had to up my game, and try to push beyond my usual shambolic approach to match her energy and thoroughness. It was educational to work with her. There were also far more editors involved than usual, and I had to adjust to a team approach.
     Second, even though Lightfoot is only two years younger than I am, and grew up an hour from where I did, I had to work to find a handle on her personality. This story took a number of false starts, and several times slid wheels-spinning into the ditch before we managed to get it up on the road and going in the form below. It's long—2800 words—but I hope it manages to keep your interest.
      The moment University of Michigan sophomore Lori Lightfoot stepped inside her Ohio home for Christmas break, she knew something wasn’t right.
     There were no decorations, no tree, nothing. And her mother loved Christmas. Always made a big deal of the holiday.
     “Something’s wrong,” said her mother.
     The older brother who Lightfoot idolized had robbed a bank in Nebraska and shot a security guard. Their devastated parents were considering mortgaging their house to raise bail money. But her brother had spread word that if he made bail, he’d run. Their hardworking parents — her father, deaf, toiled as a janitor and at other menial jobs, her mother a caretaker — could lose their home.
     “So here I am, a 19-year-old, the youngest of four,” Lightfoot said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, “and I have to help my parents navigate through this incredibly painful and difficult circumstance, which really kind of reshaped my relationship with them for the rest of my life and their lives, and tell them it would be absolutely foolish for them to take this money out because he was going to flee and that, if he fled, they would lose their house.”
     These days, Lori Lightfoot isn’t shy about taking charge. But if you’re tempted to draw a line between her troubled brother, who would spend decades behind bars, and Lightfoot’s career in law, particularly as a federal prosecutor, putting criminals like her brother in prison, don’t. She says that wasn’t the reason.
     “It was really economics that drove me to think about the law,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to do something where I would be able to take care of myself financially.”
     If that seems a contradiction — such a pivotal moment in her life having zero impact on her professionally — get used to it.
     Lightfoot, 56, stands a good chance of being elected mayor of Chicago on April 2, which would make her the first African-American woman to do so and also the first openly gay person.
     There is a lot to unpack regarding Lightfoot, including many contradictions. And not just because she is 5-feet-1, maybe, yet played on her high school basketball team — point guard — and quarterbacked her intramural football team at the University of Chicago Law School.
     “Flag football,” she observed, as if someone might otherwise suspect she were playing tackle.

To continue reading, click here.


  1. Very reassuring. I voted, twice, for Lori without knowing half of what I just read today in the Sun-Times. While I wouldn’t mourn long if Preckwinkle wins, I feel I lucked out voting for Lori after all.


  2. An interesting profile of a very interesting person. I'm almost glad I don't live in the city; it would be a hard choice for me between her and Preckwinkle.

  3. I expected more from Toni Preckwinkle, that is doing a better job of cleaning up corruption in Cook County government. When it was revealed Ald. Danny Solis was wearing a wire, many alderman were upset calling him a traitor. I have hopes that Lori can do a better job of rooting out corruption. But worry if Lori wins, it will be a replay of the Council Wars that limited Harold Washington's ability to reform city government.

  4. If I lived in the city, I'd go for Lightfoot. Preckwinkle is more of the same. Good interview, NS.

  5. Having not lived in Chicago for over 25 years, I had no dog in this fight. But after reading this profile, that's no longer true. I'd rather see Lori elected mayor than yet another Cook County "boss" thanks, Mr. S, for making things interesting.

  6. Kudos to Neil and Lauren for this excellent profile.
    I believe Chicago needs a change, and this piece gives me some optimism of that happening.


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