It Pays To Know The Right People

It Pays To Know The Right People

Inauguration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot 2019

I hopped on the number three bus at Chicago and Michigan Avenues having no clue when to pull the cord for the Wintrust Arena. It was 7:30 A.M., too early for rush hour but people dressed in their finest stepped up at every stop as we moved on down the avenue. There was no mistaking the Wintrust bus stop. The cross streets swarmed with jaywalkers, Uber poolers, truants, bus trippers, policemen, VIPs and parkers from the garages. Parades of citizens streamed toward the entrances lining up for the eight o’clock opening. Volunteers in blue “Bring In The Light” t-shirts hoisted colossal signs pointing to the ADA entrances.

“What’s going on?” asked the bus driver.

“Lori Lightfoot’s Inauguration,” I said.

“Oh! The new mayor!” he said. “Great day. End of the Machine.”

Inside the Arena, old friends who’ve fought entrenched politicians for decades worked the event. Hi, Regan! Hi! Hi! I heard victorious voices all around helping me and other revelers find our way. They directed me to two seats, eight rows from the stage. The personification of old-style politics, the Daley clan, took their seats behind me. Even they couldn’t stop the trickle of joy dripping from their upended well-oiled machine.

A Chicago policeman came running over to say hello. Matt Baio and I have known each other since we both worked for Speaker Michael Madigan in the late 1980s. Matt’s official post is guarding the inside entrance of City Hall. We’ve seen each other every time I’ve marched into that building protesting the previous mayor, or bought a dog license, or renewed my senior bus pass. I greeted him laughing, anticipating he’d be tickled about the new mayor.

“Matt, I just finished writing a book and you’re in it,” I said.

“What? No way! When’s it coming out?” 

“Early 2020. But I changed your name to protect you.”

“Is it about the time you asked me to be Bill Clinton’s driver?”

Yes, it is. And we had a riot reliving the story of what Matt, the silent navigator, overheard at the wheel in March 1992 during Illinois’ presidential primary.*

“Is it too late to use my name? It won’t hurt me. I’ve never been in a book. I’d be proud. Use Matthew Baio. I’ll buy a bunch and pass them out at City Hall. I gotta go tell my daughters. I’ll be over there by the stage if you need anything.”

My friend Peter arrived via train and bus from the far southwest side of the city. A security guard said he was ticketed for the bleachers and prevented him from joining me. As it turned out, I was also ticketed for the bleachers. I had been inadvertently led to the VIP seats. I eyeballed Officer Baio through crowd. After a brief kerfuffle including murmurs on the security guard’s walkie-talkie, Peter and I secured our prized seats. Reverend Jesse Jackson’s bodyguard sat down next to us keeping eyes on The Reverend in the row ahead.

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Reverend Jesse Jackson and Peter Feldman

After the elected officials paraded onto the stage and took their seats, the diminutive powerhouse, Lori Lightfoot, was sworn in and came to the microphone. The articulation of her vision for Chicago hit every issue. And right smack in the middle of her speech she highlighted a fear I’d expressed to her during a meet-and-greet in a friend’s condo at the beginning of her campaign. 

“I’m looking ahead to a city where people want to grow old and not flee. A city that is affordable for families and seniors,” she said.

Was it because we were so close that Peter and I felt as if our new mayor was talking directly to us? Would we have sighed with relief feeling she actually cared about us if we’d been in the bleachers? I don’t know. But I do know that it still pays to be friends with the right people in Chicago.

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Officer Matthew Baio Lori Lightfoot Inauguration May 20, 2019

 

*To find out what Matt overheard, go to City Hall and ask him. Or, even better, read my book I Want To Be In That Number, due in early 2020.

Lori Lightfoot Everywhere

Lori Lightfoot Everywhere

Small souvenir dishes clutter the top of the old painted dresser next to my bed, overflowing with hair clips, earrings and obsolete campaign buttons. “Lori Lightfoot for Mayor” buttons spill out of their dish and take on a life of their own. The badges slip between pages of books, stick onto errant scarves and slide into the sock drawer. When they’re discovered I exclaim almost out loud, “what the heck…?”

When Chicago’s 2019 mayoral campaign heated up in the fall of 2018, I grabbed a half a bag of buttons from the Lightfoot campaign. A few times every day someone noticed the Lightfoot badge on my coat, and said something like, “I like Lori.” I’d then unhook my button and hand it to them. I carried extras. Whenever I slipped my hand into my pocket or dug to the bottom of my purse, I pricked my finger on one of the pins.

A month before the end of the campaign, I volunteered in the Lightfoot office making calls to arrange details for her appearances. I’ve worked in campaigns for fifty-five years and no matter how popular my candidate was, scheduling an appearance at an event

was always like pulling teeth. With Lori, as soon as I announced why I was calling, the person at the other end fell all over themselves to accommodate her. I returned a call to a business-oriented non-profit group who wanted Lori to meet their Board.

“How many Board members will be there,” I asked.

“The whole board,” he said. “About seventy.”

“Is this a regular Board meeting?”

“Oh, no. We’re pulling it together just to meet her.”

Right then, I knew she’d win.

The Lightfoot office was full of young workers with names I’d never heard before. Some were experienced, most not, but they had everything under control. After a few days, I left the office with another bag of buttons. I’d be more useful walking around handing them out to anyone who expressed interest.

One day I ran into a machine politician who asked if I was helping Lightfoot.

“They don’t know what they’re doing over there. I can’t get anyone to return my calls.”

Of course they did know what they were doing. Lori Lightfoot ran an outsider campaign, untethered to old-time Chicago politics. The staff wouldn’t know—or care to know—political operatives tied to the old Democratic machine.

On the way home from a mayoral forum one evening, I hopped on the 151 bus. A young man dressed in a black suit, white shirt, black tie sat next to me. I recognized the uniform.

“Are you on your mission?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m a member of the Mormon Church. Do you know about the Prophets?”

I said I knew a little about them.

“Most people say Jesus will come again when all the world is wicked. But I believe Jesus will come when the righteous become valiant.”

And then he got off the bus.

Hm. Yes, that’s how I’d describe Lori Lightfoot: righteous and valiant. Maybe I should start looking for Jesus.