Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was prepared to make a very public exit from the U.S. House chamber if President Donald Trump took aim at Chicago, as he’s been known to do, during his State of the Union address.

“I was ready. I literally grabbed my coat and I thought, ‘If he says Chicago, I’m going to stand up in a way that people can see me and I’m going to walk out,’” Lightfoot told the Tribune in a telephone interview from Washington.

Instead, he focused some of his criticism on his hometown of New York, holding up its sanctuary city status as part of the reason a “criminal alien” killed a 92-year-old woman there.

“Tragically, there are many cities in America where radical politicians have chosen to provide sanctuary for these criminal illegal aliens. In sanctuary cities, local officials order police to release dangerous criminal aliens to prey upon the public, instead of handing them over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to be safely removed,” Trump said Tuesday night.

Lightfoot joined many Democrats in Washington and across the country in complaining that Trump’s speech was one of many “offensive,” false and divisive comments directed at Democrats but intended for the benefit of the president’s Republican allies in Congress GOP voters watching.

Chicago is among the nation’s sanctuary cities, which generally prohibit local authorities from cooperating with federal immigration police, often by refusing to hold people arrested on local charges past their release date at the request of federal immigration officers.

Last year, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University released an analysis showing that immigrants in sanctuary cities are 20% less likely to be arrested out in the community than in cities without such policies.

“Sanctuary cities are not about releasing ‘criminal aliens’ to rape and pillage in our streets,” Lightfoot told the Tribune. “That’s an outrageous and offensive thing to say.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Lightfoot’s criticism. Trump’s address to the nation comes during a politically polarizing election year in which he’s trying to secure a second term, and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate is set to end the president’s impeachment trial by acquitting him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges.

Lightfoot said the president should have attempted to unite the country regardless of party affiliation. Instead, she said, she viewed the address as a pep rally of sorts for Republicans.

“The president missed an important opportunity to really set a vision and to try to set the process of bringing the country together” and that was evident “in terms of the content of the speech and his body language,” Lightfoot told the Tribune. “He literally spent 90-plus percent of his time only speaking to the Republican side of the chamber. He rarely looked over to the Democratic side. So he missed a real opportunity.”

Lightfoot last month boycotted the president’s address to the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, also in D.C. But she said she nonetheless accepted an invitation from U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, a southwest suburban Democrat, to be her guest at the president’s address on Tuesday.

“It’s important for mayors across the country to stand up and to be counted and to make sure cities are on the map of national politicians, of national elected officials,” Lightfoot said.

Lisa Donovan is the host of The Spin, the Tribune’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox weekday afternoons.


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