Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot privately called an official a “dumb, dumb person of color.”
Ald. Jason Ervin, she texted, was “full of crap.” She told Ald. Brendan Reilly he was “bush league,” and referred to Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez as a “jackass” in a text to another council member.
Lightfoot’s brusque style is no secret. But a trove of text messages, recently obtained by the Tribune, further reveals the extent to which the mayor — who campaigned as a reformer aiming to unite the city — at times resorts to name-calling and shaming of her perceived enemies as she governs the city.
The Tribune obtained more than 2½ years of Lightfoot’s text messages with aldermen through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with which her staff failed to comply until the state attorney general admonished them and the Tribune threatened a lawsuit.
That led to the release of hundreds of pages of documents offering an unprecedented look at how Chicago’s chief executive deals with city aldermen and workers.
She scolded Ald. Gilbert Villegas, her former floor leader, for not appreciating how many strings federal COVID recovery monies carry and warned, “It would be a mistake for you to make promises that you have no ability to deliver.”
And she sent a sarcastic text to Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez after the first-term council member criticized her support for Columbus Day on Twitter.
“Shows real resolve toward building bridges,” Lightfoot said. “Nice work.”
In response to questions about the texts, Lightfoot press secretary Cesar Rodriguez released a statement Thursday saying, “The past two years have been some of the most challenging times for local elected leaders.”
“Governing is a tough business. Emotions can at times get the best of each of us,” the statement said. “The mayor is fully focused on working together with (aldermen) and other stakeholders to continue to address the very serious issues that face our city every day.”
Besides offering a look into relations between top officials, the texts offer a window into some of the key moments of Lightfoot’s administration and the anxieties gripping Chicago, showing how chaos has unfolded behind the scenes at crucial times in the city’s history.
‘We are losing downtown’
Lightfoot regularly hears from aldermen about crime, which has spiked dramatically in Chicago over the past two years.
In January 2020, for instance, Pat Dowell texted the mayor about an “uptick in robberies on the (Red Line)” between Lake Street and Roosevelt Road.
“South Loopers are complaining of course and there is talk on ‘leaving the city,’ ” Dowell said. “My commander has taken steps to address but the public transit division of (CPD) doesn’t have enough resources.”
“I am very concerned and focused on CTA issues,” Lightfoot responded.
That summer, Dowell also texted about “the lack of police response” in her ward. In another message, she said she’s “frustrated with the police. They don’t engage people or deter crime.”
“Finance doesn’t ticket people who ignore parking restrictions so I have a thousand people in two parks doing illegal fireworks, drinking and smoking (weed) and peeing all over the place,” Dowell said.
Lightfoot did not text back, according to the records her office released.
Ald. Greg Mitchell texted Lightfoot in July 2020 about “several car jacking/armed robberies” in Calumet Heights on the South Side. He told her about kids stealing high-end luxury vehicles at gunpoint and using the stolen cars to commit additional carjackings.
“On it! I will call you back myself as soon as I get a break from meetings, but I have been worried about this, consistently asked about it, and was told by CPD that they had a collaborative plan with the burbs,” Lightfoot said. “I will make sure this gets renewed focus.”
Nearly a year and a half later, carjackings are up significantly.
In September 2021, Reilly and Lightfoot exchanged a series of heated texts about crime after he called police Superintendent David Brown a “moron” who “won’t listen,” reportedly in a tweet.
“Brendan, shameful and unhelpful. How about pickup the phone instead falsely creating the appearance of doing someone at everyone else’s expense?” Lightfoot texted Reilly. “Really bush league.”
Reilly defended his use of the word, saying he’d lost confidence in the superintendent.
“He’s a fine cop, but I’m looking at … my crime stats & can honestly say that, in my 26 years living downtown, I’ve never seen lawlessness to this degree,” Reilly said. “It’s sickening. So I’ll apologize for using the word ‘moron.’ And I am anything but ‘Bush League.’ I want you to be successful, Mayor & I support you. But (this) has to change ASAP. We are losing downtown.”
Lightfoot said she shares “the levels of concern” but the 18th police district “has tons of resources so there is no excuse for what is happening.”
“I will push back and say that it was not that long ago that River North was not a nice safe neighborhood and that is recent enough that I remember it,” Lightfoot added. “But Brendan, you know there are far more constructive ways to get stuff done. Pandering to the crowd is never the best answer, even when you are frustrated.”
Public name calling “makes it that much more challenging,” Lightfoot added. “It cannot be open season on cops.”
In response, Reilly said he appreciates where she’s coming from but added, “River North has always been safe on my watch so that’s almost 15 years — and this is really bad.”
‘Man, I’m getting s—’
As protests, civil unrest and looting gripped the city following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, Chris Taliaferro texted Lightfoot about the chaos and wondered whether reinforcements were coming.
“Mayor, the wards are experiencing heavy looting and large crowds gathering,” Taliaferro texted. “Will the National Guard or police redeploy to the south and west sides before we lose control of them?”
Lightfoot replied with images of police on the West Side and a text of her own: “Also, this problem is all over the area, not just in Chicago. And if the (Black) caucus wanted to be helpful, activate your faith, community and other stakeholders to be in the streets to help calm it down and call people out.”
Taliaferro suggested a “sunset to sunrise curfew,” to which Lightfoot replied, “Man, I’m getting s— for even daring to implement anything!”
During civil unrest on May 31, 2020, Dowell complained that police weren’t “doing a damn thing” and in fact were “letting these folks loot” in her ward.
“The police have to engage these lawless f—-,” Dowell added.
As protests morphed into violence that weekend, Lightfoot ordered CTA trains to stop going downtown, ordered bridges up and implemented a curfew.
“I’m really concerned about the safety of the protestors,” Rodriguez Sanchez texted Lightfoot. “It seems like 35 minutes is not enough to allow people to get home safe.”
“Your info is incorrect,” Lightfoot responded. “The people that remain downtown are looters, not protesters. I am watching this unfold. Happy to discuss, but we are trying to protect lives and property.”
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Rodriguez Sanchez said she knew people downtown that were not looting and asked if the CTA could get back up so people could leave.
Noting that she was watching events in real time from the Office of Emergency Management, Lightfoot said people could go west to the Blue Line or catch the Brown Line north.
After Rodriguez Sanchez said she was getting messages from “scared young black People who don’t know where to go,” Lightfoot responded, “Go west and then north. Rossana, the city is up for grabs.”
‘I don’t take kindly to demands’
Some of the more contentious messages between Lightfoot and aldermen involve policing issues, including instances where Lightfoot proactively defended officers. But records show Lightfoot sometimes reacts negatively when aldermen reach out.
In August 2020, Ald. Maria Hadden tweeted that she’d been reviewing footage from a protest and “the behavior of police in several of these videos is cause for great concern to all of us. I’m seeking more information and will share a statement this week.”
Lightfoot texted Hadden about her tweet, saying: “Maria, I hope as you are reviewing video, you start with the video showing protesters rush the police and initiating physical contact. And I hope you don’t miss the protester who repeatedly smashed the head of an officer with his skateboard. Happy to discuss any and all.”
Hadden agreed that the protester beating police with a skateboard is wrong but added, “I also have seen video of officers engaging in behavior that really concerns me.”
After protesters clashed with police at the Columbus statue in Grant Park, Hadden texted Lightfoot, “The Columbus statue needs to come down. Can we talk about making that happen?”
Lightfoot said she would be happy to discuss, “but I don’t take kindly to demands.”
In September 2020, Rodriguez Sanchez texted Lightfoot that she would be introducing a City Council order “to start exploring the creation of a crisis (response) model for our city.”
“I would really like to be able to collaborate on this,” Rodriguez Sanchez said.
“I am not a fan of ‘orders’ but happy to discuss,” Lightfoot responded.
As Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union negotiated reopening this January, freshman Ald. Andre Vasquez texted the mayor asking to talk.
“Hello. Happy to discuss,” Lightfoot responded. “I have seen some of your postings and you are very far out in your opposition, so not sure what you want to discuss.”
On March 12, 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis intensified, Vasquez texted Lightfoot that Evanston closed its schools for a month.
“I really think we need to look at doing the same considering how horrible this could end up if we don’t,” Vasquez said.
Lightfoot responded: “As I said today, we will be guided by the science and we see no basis to close the schools at this time. We cannot do ‘monkey see, monkey do’ because a lot of stuff is happening completely untethered from any scientific basis which just leads to panic and confusion.”
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker shut down state schools a day later, at a news conference Lightfoot did not attend.
In October, as aldermen led by Silvana Tabares unsuccessfully pushed to strip Lightfoot of the power to impose a vaccine mandate without City Council approval, Lightfoot texted Dowell to say the fight over her vaccine mandate was really about stripping her of power.
“It has everything to do with (Fraternal Order of Police president) John Cantazara. That racist SOB, trying to prove that he has more power than the black mayor and the black supt,” Lightfoot said. “And Burke, per usual, found a dumb, dumb person of color to do his bidding. It is classic racial politics.”
The mayor’s office did not address a Tribune question about whom she was referring to as a “dumb, dumb person of color” doing Burke’s bidding.
But two days before that text, she publicly questioned why Southwest Side Ald. Silvana Tabares — who was the lead sponsor of the ordinance — would fight for it.
“Honestly, I really don’t understand a woman of color carrying the water for a guy who’s demonstrated over and over again he’s racist,” Lightfoot said at the time.
‘In what world does the opposition get rewarded?’
In the lead-up to the 2020 budget vote, Lightfoot told Black aldermen, “Don’t come to me for s—” if they don’t support her budget. Ald. Walter Burnett texted her that the message had hurt her efforts to whip votes.
“Sorry if I offended people by being candid, but it is only fair to support the people who support (your) programs,” Lightfoot responded. “In what world does the opposition get rewarded?”
In April 2020, Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza texted Lightfoot about a contentious call she had with environmentalists who told her they would be coming after her for allowing controversial polluter General Iron to move to the 10th Ward.
“They disseminate the wrong information They dont play well with others So F— them,” Garza texted.
“I am riding with you til the end!” Lightfoot responded.
As a candidate, Lightfoot said she supported an independent City Council and wanted aldermen to think for themselves. One of the first signs Lightfoot wouldn’t be kind to dissenters came after she followed her first budget’s easy passage by creating a website criticizing those who voted no.
“Not understanding your decision to target Aldermen,” Hadden texted her. “It seems contrary to the desire for an independent City Council and I find it very troubling.”
“I am not sure why showing how people voted is ‘targeting,’ ” Lightfoot replied.
“Coming from a political site the information is not neutral,” Hadden said.
In fall 2020, Lightfoot texted Reilly her disappointment “that you are pressuring your colleagues by talking s—. The phone works both ways.”
“I haven’t pressured a single colleague to vote yes or no & have also purposefully refrained from commenting on the budget proposal in committee or the press,” Reilly said. “We’ve all been talking about the budget, but I haven’t ‘talked s—’ about it.”
He added, “I’ve been a pretty loyal supporter of yours, so I guess I’m also a bit disappointed that you’d believe that I’m out there trying to somehow undermine the budget vote. That is just simply not true.”
Lightfoot said she’s open to more conversation.
At times, aldermen have confronted Lightfoot via text. David Moore texted her his objections in June 2019 after she ripped politically influential businessman Elzie Higginbottom. In a Tribune interview, Lightfoot said Higginbottom “goes in a different direction” when they make eye contact.
“Unfortunately, your comment about him going in a different direction when eye contact is made is not true and it builds walls instead of bridges,” Moore texted.
She did not text back.
This September, Rodriguez Sanchez objected after Lightfoot publicly said she “frequently calls me” to demand police. Rodriguez Sanchez is a democratic socialist who supports defunding police.
“I think it’s incredible that you would say that I call you frequently asking for police,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “We haven’t talked on the phone in over a year.”
The mayor did not text back.
‘Jason Ervin?! You must be confused!’
Not all the texts are contentious. Aldermen sometimes text Lightfoot to ask that she appear at their fundraisers or inquire about her family.
Lightfoot once texted Garza, “Love you!”
“Love you too!!” Garza responded. “We are truly making a difference Nevermind the a——- lets keep doing what we are doing.”
In February, as Lightfoot floor leader Michelle Harris campaigned for Illinois Democratic Party chair, Lightfoot texted her friendly advice.
“Be careful out there,” Lightfoot said. “Treachery is everywhere.”
Three days later, Lightfoot texted Harris, “Slow and steady wins the race.”
Lightfoot’s relationship with Jason Ervin and his wife, Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, started rocky. Lightfoot stripped the treasurer of her police security detail and feuded with Ervin in late 2019 after he attempted to delay marijuana sales in Chicago.
Lightfoot and Ervin also clashed in spring 2020 after Lightfoot introduced an ordinance granting emergency powers to the mayor amid COVID.
“It would be helpful if (someone) said that the vast majority of the funds will be brought before the Council as specific appropriations,” Lightfoot texted Reilly. “Jason is full of crap — again.”
But over time, Ervin has emerged as one of Lightfoot’s closest allies. In March 2021, Lightfoot even texted Ervin, “members of my team yesterday were singing your praises.
“I said, ‘Jason Ervin?! You must be confused!’ Ha!”
Ervin replied, “I see we have jokes this morning …”
Others have confided with her about their political aspirations. Burnett, a longtime protege of Secretary of State Jesse White who considered possibly running to succeed him, texted his thanks to Lightfoot “for your patience with me deciding (whether) to run for SOS.”
“Mr. White was trying to get me appointed if he was to resign early. That’s the only way that I would (feel) comfortable doing it, with a leg up to raise money and work the state without neglecting the ward,” Burnett said. “It didn’t work out so you are stuck with me.”
Lightfoot, who has played coy publicly about the likely prospect that she will seek reelection, has also confided in some aldermen about her aspirations.
Nick Sposato texted Lightfoot in July 2020 to ask if the Chicago Teachers Union had apologized for a tweet depicting an apparent cartoon version of her tied up, wearing a police uniform and being unmasked by the characters from the “Scooby-Doo” TV show.
“Of course not, that would require humility and the ability for self reflection. They took it down because they were brutalized on social media, but these are the same people who did equally horrible things during the campaign,” Lightfoot said. “It will continue until I beat them again in the next election.”
In May 2020, Sposato texted Lightfoot, “Shitso is an ASSHOLE!” in a reference to Byron Sigcho-Lopez.
Lightfoot responded, “There are no words for that jackass.”
She also called Raymond Lopez “the peacock” — one of the milder insults.
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