Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said both President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump called to congratulate her on her victory, and that she “appreciated the outreach” as she prepares to take the helm of the country’s third-largest city.
“The president reached out yesterday and I had a very cordial conversation with him,” Lightfoot said Thursday when asked about how she planned to approach her relationship to the commander in chief, whose interactions with outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel have been downright acrimonious at times.
“I think he has a genuine interest in trying to be helpful to the city,” she continued. “No doubt, our politics could not be more different and I’m not going to hesitate to speak out against things that I think are harmful or damaging to people here in the city who really have been harmed by a lot of the rhetoric.”
“But he’s still the president of the United States,” Lightfoot added. “We are due our fair share of a return on tax dollars and I want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can, and figuring out a way to build a constructive relationship with the White House has to be part of our Washington strategy.”
Lightfoot said President Trump was cordial and their conversation was neither long nor brief, but he indicated that he had been following Chicago’s race for mayor and was “very complimentary.”
“Not surprisingly, he did most of the talking but I appreciated the outreach,” she added. Of the call with Ivanka Trump, Lightfoot said at first she wondered if she “getting catfished,” but that the first daughter and advisor to the president was “very, very gracious” and spoke about issues she’s passionate about like early childhood development.
Lightfoot said she plans to have a robust strategy when it comes to her administration’s presence in both Springfield and Washington, D.C.
“It’s very important that we are on the map in Washington, that we have good relationships with our representatives and, of course, our senators,” she said. “Being physically present and having people know who I am and start to build those relationships – I know some of the people in the delegation for sure but it’s important that they know me and that I start to have a physical presence in Washington, D.C., as well as Springfield.”
In that regard, Lightfoot said “there has to be a level of coordination” between her staff and that of Emanuel, with whom she said she felt “very comfortable” that she would have a “very good working relationship through the transition period.”
The two met on Wednesday to discuss the transition – but it was the first time they had seen each other face to face in exactly 20 months. Lightfoot, who was President of the Chicago Police Board through her resignation in May 2018 to run for mayor, said that the last time they met before Wednesday was on Aug. 3, 2017.
“I remember it because it was the day before my birthday and it was the day he whistled me in to determine whether or not he was going to reappoint me to the police board,” she said.
Their meeting Wednesday was also “very cordial,” Lightfoot said, adding that Emanuel “could not have been more generous, both in talking about things related to the job, unrelated to the job.”
Lightfoot said Emanuel did make the point that “there’s only one mayor at a time” and that she planned to be “very respectful of that,” referencing former President Barack Obama’s deference to his predecessor in 2008.
“We obviously come at issues from a very, very different perspective and management,” Lightfoot said of her relationship to Emanuel, adding that she was sure she would have “many more conversations” with him before taking office.
Of course, when Lightfoot launched her campaign in May 2018, she thought Emanuel would be her opponent, until he announced in September that he would not be running for re-election – telling reporters at the time that he thought Chicago’s next mayor wasn’t even in the race yet.
“This was a wild, wild ride,” she said, adding that when Emanuel stepped aside, “that whole landscape changed.”
“There were a lot of people who doubted us, counted us out, told us to drop out,” Lightfoot continued. “But I was determined to see it through.”
She pointed to mid-January as the time her team “started seeing things break in a very different way.”
“We have a lot of enthusiastic volunteers and we just kept being steady and persistent and talking about change and the necessity,” Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot said she’s always been interested in politics since she was young, pinpointing a memory of watching the Watergate hearings. She said her mother had raised her to be an advocate, even staging a protest over sub-par still-frozen pizzas served as school lunches.
But she also insisted that she “never thought” she would be elected mayor of Chicago.
“I never thought I would be in this position because I never thought about being an elected official,” Lightfoot said, laughing at the notion that her election was part of any “plan.”
“I’m a public servant, certainly that’s something that I really relished, the chances and opportunities I’ve had,” she said. “But being an elected official, and certainly being the mayor of the third-largest city, up until recently I would have told you you were crazy if you asked me that.”