Lori Lightfoot, '89: The Highest Standards

Credibility and integrity were traits that made Lori Lightfoot, ’89, a leader at the Law School and are traits that have distinguished her career as well. While still a student, Lightfoot was instrumental in getting a law firm banned from on-campus interviewing because the firm had mistreated a fellow student. “What they did wasn’t illegal,” she says, “but it was immoral.” Lightfoot says of the battle with the firm, “Because people knew me in a broader context, they knew I wouldn’t be pushing for something unless I had a good reason for it.”

Perhaps it is this backbone that City of Chicago mayor Richard Daley recognized in Lightfoot earlier this year when he appointed her to work in the Office of Procurement soon after it came to light that certain companies that had been certified as Minority Business Enterprises or Women Business Enterprises were fronts, created in order to benefit from the city’s “set aside” program. The set aside program is designed to foster the economic development of women- and minority-owned businesses in Chicago. Neither the state nor the federal government offers programs of this sort, and the city is committed to this type of economic development. The scandal “really hit the public consciousness,” Lightfoot says. “The mayor felt he needed to take a dramatic step.” She is taking at least a six-month leave from her regular job to work for the Office of Procurement, but she told the mayor she would stay as long as necessary. “Our charge is to maintain the public trust,” she says. “The goal is to make things as understandable and transparent as possible.”

Her “regular” job is Chief of Staff and General Counsel for the Office of Emergency Management. In this capacity Lightfoot is tasked with managerial oversight of homeland security efforts in Chicago, the 911 call center, the 311 call center, emergency management, and traffic management.

Lightfoot’s reputation for fairness and integrity began to be widely known during her tenure as Chief Administrator of the Office of Professional Standards for the Chicago Police Department. Lightfoot says the biggest challenge in this position was “walking a difficult line between maintaining the integrity of the department and handling complaints against it.” One memorable incident occurred in April of 2003, when a van was stopped by police because of an outstanding warrant. The occupants initially refused to get out of the vehicle and the situation rapidly escalated as several squad cars and a large crowd gathered. The police eventually broke the windows of the van and sprayed pepper spray inside. When the driver exited the van the police pushed him to the ground to handcuff him, and even though he was not resisting, excessive force was used. “OPS had to find out who laid hands on this man and who was responsible,” she says. The officers wouldn’t admit to anything. Lightfoot reflects, “When a community is outraged the only fair thing to do is to follow due process. Unfortunately it’s a slow process and it doesn’t always satisfy the community.” Ultimately, OPS recommended the lead officer be fired, and he ended up facing criminal charges. Lightfoot said that situations like these helped show her staff that this was “not just another job.”

She approaches everything with this level of commitment. At the Law School, she was quarterback for the women’s intramural football team, Apathy, which in her time had a remarkable record—not only was the team undefeated, it was unscored upon. But memories of her time here are bittersweet. “The Law School has come a long way in terms of diversity, but it has a long way yet to go,” she says. “I would like to see greater efforts made to include minority voices in the intellectual life of the Law School, and to reach out to minority alumni for fundraising and volunteer support. Why not have a world-class law school that is a truly inclusive place?”