By John Kass
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has so repeatedly botched her response to the murder of Chicago Police officer Ella French, and she’s so angry about criticism she’s getting from cops, that she’s losing it.
Chicago’s mayor needs a time out.
I know where. As a White Sox fan, I know the perfect place.
One public relations flub leads to another. The cops already loathe her, as do many city workers. And the Chicago Teachers Union she once thought she could buy, now slaps her around every chance they get.
On Wednesday the mayor was called out publicly by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office for telling a whopper. This one involved Eric Carter, her First Deputy Superintendent of Police. Lightfoot is now further inciting police anger by defending Carter’s decision to needlessly and thoughtlessly rush a time-honored police ritual paying tribute to the slain officer at the morgue.
Lightfoot snapped at reporters when she was asked about police turning their backs on her at the hospital where French and her partner, who was in critical condition, had been taken.
“What else are you gonna mine from the bottom of the chum barrel?” Lightfoot snarled on Wednesday at City Hall.
Chum? Pardon me? Just stop Lori. Stop.
As an angler, I find chum to be disgusting. Accusing reporters of digging deeply into a barrel full of ripening fish heads and fish guts in the heat of August, simply for asking her legitimate questions, is ample reason enough for a Lori time out.
But where can Lori go?
She’s a Sox fan, so the best place for her to disappear is at the White Sox–Yankees game on Thursday, in the “Field of Dreams” game in Dyersville, Iowa.
She can just step into the corn, like those ghost ballplayers in the Kevin Costner movie, and disappear. No one will mind, mayor. TV networks will love it. Chicago won’t panic if you vanish into the corn. Trust me.
“Is this heaven?” a Chicago police officer might ask in some rough neighborhood where shootings are common.
“It’s almost heaven,” says a sergeant. “Lightfoot just walked into the Iowa corn.”
If Lightfoot gets up early on Thursday morning—let’s say right after she reads this—she’ll have time for her bodyguards to drive her to Iowa and disappear with dramatic flourish into the corn.
But the mayor will need to wear a uniform. She’s worn costumes before. And the Sox should have no trouble finding her a uniform, say, a small bat boy uniform, an exact version of the old-time pinstriped uniforms they’ll wear against the Yankees.
If an emergency tailor can’t be found in Dyersville, the local hardware store should have a roll of duct tape, or a farmer’s wife might have a few safety pins in a jar.
My friend and former Tribune editorial cartoonist Scott Stantis could draw the perfect illustration–the mayor blending into the corn in her baggy uniform, waving whimsically, with a sad smile, just like Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) or Dr. Archibald ‘Moonlight’ Graham (Burt Lancaster).
Or perhaps Stantis could draw a tiny mayor peering out at reporters from deep inside the stalks, like some angry child of the corn, only Lori of the Corn, the journalists with their arms up to the elbows in chum.
But as I’m still giving this column away for free (for now), I don’t have the necessary funds to pay famous artists like Mr. Stantis for their fine work. You’ll just have to imagine the mayor out there in the corn, muttering to herself.
“She’s already living in a fantasy world,” Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th told me Wednesday. “She has no idea really, what’s going on in her city. She’s insulated and isolated in her protective bubble, with only staffers around her who agree with her. And she doesn’t realize that what she says has no resonance to the people of Chicago.”
Lopez is a critic of the mayor’s. But if she believed that the Medical Examiner would give her cover for her whopper, then she truly is living in a fantasy world. The ME’s office is controlled by Lightfoot’s bitter rival, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Lightfoot’s story was designed to protect First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter from himself as Officer French’s body was taken to the morgue. Lightfoot’s defense fell apart on Wednesday. Earlier this week, I reported what Carter had done.
For years, Carter has handled the somber, heartbreaking ritual of police funerals for officers killed in the line of duty. He knows the drill, so what he did at the Medical Examiner’s office was inexcusable.
As French’s body was being brought to the morgue, hundreds of officers lined up outside the ME’s office to pay their respects. There were bagpipes, and a drum, and the officers who lined up saluted.
“It’s a sad, slow roll,” a senior police source told me. “The drums, the pipes, it’s what we’ve done for decades when a police officer is killed and taken to the morgue. It’s our last chance to salute before the body is processed. It’s what we do. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s always been slow.”
But Carter didn’t like slow. He didn’t like waiting. He wanted to get the procession moving. He rushed them.
“We don’t have 20 minutes for this s—,” he’s recorded as saying on a video from outside the morgue, within earshot of several stunned officers under his command.
“We’re not gonna be waiting on the bagpipes. Go ahead and get the vehicle inside. Take it all the way inside. Do not stop,” Carter says on a police scanner a few minutes later.
Take ‘it’ inside? That is the body of a murdered Chicago Police officer. Cops were outraged, and rightfully so, and many want Carter fired or demoted.
But Carter is Lightfoot’s guy now, and she’ll protect him like a boss.
“Lightfoot defends First Deputy for trying to speed up ritual at morgue for Officer Ella French,” was the headline of a story by the paper’s savvy City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.
In it, Lightfoot said it was Carter’s decision to speed up the procession, “and I support what he did.”
Spielman quoted the mayor as saying a “well- meaning but not well-organized group that wanted to hijack the procession, which would have meant that the family would have been delayed exponentially in getting to the morgue.”
Hijacked the procession? That’s bad enough. Then Lightfoot really stepped in it.
“Given the new restrictions that the new coroner has put in place, that wouldn’t have been fair to them,” Lightfoot was quoted in the Sun Times as saying. “So, a call was made under those circumstances to focus on the family. Eric Carter made the right call. I support what he did. And I’m horrified that, in this moment, people are trying to savage him for whatever agenda or purpose.”
A funny thing about those “new restrictions,” that Lightfoot was talking about. They don’t exist. Natalia Derevyanny, a spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, issued this statement:
“Protocols for processions at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office have not changed since the pandemic began. First responders have always gathered in the office parking lot and dock to pay respects to fallen police officers and firefighters.
“Early Sunday morning, police officers gathered in the parking and dock area as usual, and bagpipers accompanied the body of Officer Ella French through the parking lot to the dock. At no time did personnel from the Medical Examiner’s Office try to impede officers or bagpipers.”
You need a translation?
Mayor Pinocchio, your pants suit is on fire.
And Toni Preckwinkle, boss of Cook County government, which runs the Medical Examiner’s office, isn’t going to put it out for you.
What’s truly astounding is that Lightfoot would put herself in Preckwinkle’s hands that way, like some foolish rookie getting picked off third base in the 7th inning of a tight game. Or like some incompetent, inexperienced politician who’s great at doing friendly interviews on MSNBC, but still doesn’t know how to play politics.
Lightfoot kept stepping in it, saying police don’t like Carter because he isn’t part of the old “friends and family program.”
But Carter’s wife, who also works in the police department, was recently, perhaps miraculously, promoted to the rank of acting commander, meaning increased status and a pay bump for the Carter household.
That’s the “friends and family program.” It’s called the Chicago Way, Lori.
And mayor? You can take the Chicago Way all the way out to Iowa, and put on the Sox bat boy costume and just step out into the corn and stay there for a while. Not forever, but just long enough so you can figure out what you’ll do with yourself when the mayoral gig ends.
You won’t find any barrels of chum out there, just corn.
But as long as you stay hidden in the Iowa corn, Chicago might think it’s heaven.
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)