By Erick Johnson
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday, December 13 held a roundtable meeting with Chicago’s Black Press and small newspapers, but none of the publications can print half of what the mayor said.
In a surprise move with no advance notice, Lightfoot held a short, hour-long meeting where half of the talks were off the record, per her request. Anel Ruiz, Lightfoot’s press secretary, sat next to the mayor to keep track of the time.
Journalists from the Crusader, the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Citizen, N’DIGO magazine, TBT News, the Tribe, WVON, The Final Call and the Hyde Park Herald attended the meeting.
The first 30 minutes of the meeting was off the record, which meant the journalists could not print Lightfoot’s responses to questions asked by journalists.
The second half of the meeting was on the record. Journalists who don’t have the same access to Lightfoot as the daily newspapers were forced to cram questions within a 30-minute time frame that was extended five additional minutes. The meeting left many journalists with questions that were never asked.
The meeting was in stark contrast to the one Lightfoot gave last April before she took office. That one was a question and answer session than ran more than two hours long where there were no limits to record and print Lightfoot’s responses to questions from Chicago’s Black Press.
Lightfoot’s predecessor, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel held little to no meetings with the Black Press and his press aides often provided information on the condition that it would be off the record.
During her first meeting with the Black Press, Lightfoot promised fair and equal access to the Black Press during her term as mayor. Mayors, including Lightfoot, rarely have press meetings where a large portion is off the record.
After the second meeting with the off the record request, a Crusader journalist voiced concerns about the short meeting and the off the record request. Lightfoot said that she will consider having more meetings with the Black Press and other newspapers in the future.
At Friday’s meeting, Lightfoot said she is happy about Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck. She said Beck was police chief in Los Angeles, he has gone through a consent decree and that he had experience in the city’s predominately Black, Watts neighborhood. Lightfoot said Beck brought violent crime down in Watts by 50 percent, by working with the community. Lightfoot said Beck increased the homicide clearance rate – percent of murders solved – to 80 percent by working with the community.
“You cannot get those kinds of numbers if you’re not engaged in a working respectful relationship,” Lightfoot said.
“Now he’s not going to be here as a permanent superintendent, but he has already made a number of changes that will lay the foundation for the next person.”
Lightfoot said her choice for the next police superintendent will be a “strong leader who respectfully engages with the community.”
Lightfoot said Beck made it clear that he’s not interested in applying for a permanent job as Chicago’s top cop.
Contrary to her campaign pro- mise for mayor, Lightfoot at the meeting confirmed that she will not open the six mental health clinics that Rahm Emanuel closed in 2012 to save the city $3 million.
“We’re going to make sure we rebuild capacity in existing clinics because we’re under-utilized right now,” Lightfoot said. “But what we heard very clearly from patients and also practitioners, is that people don’t want to have their mental health services delivered in an institutionalized clinic.”
Lightfoot also said her office will draft a Community Benefits Ordinance to address concerns of displacement by residents in South Shore. She said her administration is “winding down the review process” and hopes it “will come to a conclusion relatively soon, so that we can move on.”
“Make no mistake about it – the Obama Presidential Center being in Chicago is a huge benefit,” she said. “It has the potential to completely transform those areas on the South Side — if we do it right.
And I’m committed to making sure that we do it right.”