Special Column/Podcast: Ald. Lopez says Mayor Lightfoot’s failures empower street gangs
15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez in an interview this week told me that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not only failed to confront street gangs but has empowered them with her rhetoric and failed policies. Coupled with States Attorney Kim Foxx’s failed policies, street gangs are emboldened and the Chicago Police have been weakened. Ald. Lopez said that must change. (Podcast audio at end of column)
By Ray Hanania
Chicago Alderman Raymond Lopez said that Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s sudden concern to confront street gangs is driven by politics, not by a concern for the city or its citizens.
One of several City Council members who have challenged Lightfoot’s failure in confronting street gang violence and the COVID pandemic, Lopez said Monday “anything is possible” when asked if he might run for mayor.
Lopez entered public service in 1996 as a volunteer in the 23rdWard organization of then Democratic Committeeman and Congressman Bill Lipinski, one of Chicago’s most powerful political organizations and then moved to the 15th Ward where he won office in 2012 of Committeeman and alderman in 2015.
He was not hesitant to criticize Lightfoot accusing her policies of undermining the police noting that during her first two years in office empowered the street gangs, which he called “the central issue” facing the city.
“The mayor, not until last week, finally called out gangs and the negative role they play in our neighborhoods,” Lopez said during an appearance on the Ray Hanania on Politics Podcast Monday, August 16, 2021.
“But you cannot wait two years to call them the enemy. And today again she said gangs are the issue and we have to declare war on killers. That’s pretty tough talk for a woman who has been enabling gangs and criminals and working with them quite frankly for two years. Who is going to take her seriously? This is a mayor who a year and a half ago thought it was a good idea to work with gang bangers to protect neighborhoods which ultimately led to African Americans and others being attacked and shot in some cases. How do you go from they are our partners to now they are the enemy when you are the one who brought them to the table.”
Lopez said Lightfoot’s rhetoric has been “welcoming” to the street gangs. Coupled with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s policies of declining to prosecute criminals and increasing thresholds for prosecutions, the street gangs are “getting a clear message.”
“Without a doubt, Ray, the idea that we are welcoming to criminals based on the rhetoric we hear and see is having a huge impact on the City of Chicago,” Lopez argued.
“We know that Kim Foxx has rhetorically sided with criminals over victims, time and time again. We also know that our Mayor Lori Lightfoot has sided with criminality over the police.”
Lopez cited Lightfoot’s refusal to stand by police when protestors tore down statues of Christopher Columbus in 2020.
“You had the police officers surrounding the Columbus statue and you had hundreds of protestors with weapons, frozen water bottles, sharpened spears and things of that nature aggressively going after our police and the mayor gave out less than a single tweet to discuss how wrong it was for violence against the officers, but in the same breath gave out 13 follow-up tweets on how to report a police officer for excessive force and violence,” Lopez said.
“That level of impartiality is not lost on anybody. And gangbangers pick up on that really quick. And to your point, they do know they don’t want to be in an area where people are tough on them.”
When communities “are tough on street gangs,” Lopez said. “They look for other places to go that are more welcoming in surrounding neighborhoods.”
Lopez cited the tragic murder of Chicago Police Officer Ella French who was killed during a traffic stop by a gun carrying criminal with a past history of criminal activity as forcing Lightfoot to “finally say something” against street gangs.
“If Officer French had not given her life and Officer Yanez was not fighting for his, if that event had never happened, I don’t think we would hear Lori Lightfoot talking about gangs,” Lopez said.
“We have had children killed on the streets and time and time again she never brought up gangs. Now it is gangs, it’s gangs, it’s gangs. I think part of that isn’t necessarily because she believes it. I think it is political. … Lightfoot is trying to pivot now and hopes that everyone forgets that her terms started with enabling crime and now she wants to fight it.”
Lopez was not without suggestions on how to confront the street gangs more effectively, ideas that Lightfoot has clearly ignored for personal reasons.
“There are real solutions dealing with gangs,” said Lopez, who has been targeted by the gang bangers many times for his outspoken call for a crackdown on their criminal behavior. His offices have been vandalized at least three times during the past year.
Lopez said that Lightfoot has weakened and dismantled the Police gang crimes unit, rebuilt it and then dismantled it again saying the changes have weakened Chicago’s ability to confront street gangs.
He said Chicago must:
Have a strong street gang unit to confront the gang bangers
Ensure the narcotics unit is fully staffed and not diverted to other issues. “Drugs and gangs go hand-in-hand.”
Approve the “Troubled Buildings Initiative” and prosecute landlords legally who do not hold tenants accountable for the gang activity on their properties
“Those three things alone could have an immediate impact in the amount of violence that we see in our neighborhoods because right now gang bangers feel that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can be done to touch them. And that simply is not the case,” Lopez insisted.
“We just have to have the will to use what we have at our disposal now to at least address them on the streets. We know we have issues with Kim Foxx. We know we have issues with the courts. But our police have tools right now at their disposal if we choose to use them.”
Lopez said he entered politics at the urging of friends.
“When I was growing up in my neighborhood by 47th and Cicero, there weren’t very many options for young folks. Either you were kind of with a sports team in a sports park, or you were with the other team, the guys that hung out on the corners,” he recalled.
A friend suggested he get involved with the local ward organization and he met with Lipinski and 23rd Ward Ald. Mike Zalewski when he was 18 years old.
“I was bit by the political bug. I loved being a precinct captain, going on knocking on doors, helping them get services,” Lopez said, explaining the experience helped him understand the concerns that residents, homeowners and taxpayers have.
After working briefly for Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Department of Special Events, he left politics and moved to the 15th Ward and “politics faded.”
It was when he called his local alderman for bulk pickup services and got an uncaring response that provoked him into running for office himself.
“I was hung up on and treated poorly and I thought someone has to run against that person and that person was me,” Lopez said.
The differences between Lopez and Lightfoot came to public prominence in May 2020 after protestors took to the streets of Chicago and the suburbs and looted and destroyed businesses in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, who died after he was arrested for trying to cash a counterfeit $20 bill for the second time at a Minneapolis grocery store.
During a teleconference on May 31, Lopez asked Lightfoot what she planned to do in response to the looting and violence. Defending the police, Lopez reported that neighborhoods in his ward in the Back of the Yards and Brighton Park were becoming a “war zone.”
Instead of responding with concern for the residents, Lightfoot brushed aside his concerns forcing Lopez to interject himself demanding an answer from the city’s Chief Executive Officer.
Instead of answering the concern for the neighborhoods, Lightfoot personally attacked Lopez, saying, “I think you are 100 percent full of s… is what I think,” Lightfoot said during the meeting. An audio of the entire meeting that Lightfoot tried to destroy was made public and leaked to the news media.
Lopez responded “F… you then. Who are you to tell me I am full of s…?”
Lightfoot tried to spin the media coverage blaming Lopez but Lopez said her defense of the violence and failure to call out the looters and protestors or to back the police was one reason why they went on so long in Chicago.
“The Mayor definitely tried to spin it as though she was the poor victim in that conversation. But if you listen to the entirety of the conversation, she is the one who took it to a place it didn’t have to go,” Lopez said.
“We could have been respectful. She could have simply answered my question. She didn’t want to be accountable in what we know in retrospect that she was woefully unprepared for and let neighborhoods get pillaged and looted.”
Lopez said that the incident was just the tip of the iceberg of Lightfoot’s problem, not understanding how to work with others to achieve results for the people of the city, something that distinguished her from former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, her predecessor.
“I would just say from just a strictly pragmatic sense working as an alderman, Rahm Emanuel was 100 times better in that regard than Lori Lightfoot. Rahm was Rahm but he also understood you needed to take care of neighborhood issues. You had to make sure garbage was picked up, that streetlights worked, potholes were filled up, all of those things that aldermen are very much concerned about,” said Lopez who served one full term when Emanuel was mayor.
“If there was an issue, he had no problem listening to what your concern was and directing departments to make it right. Not so with this mayor. There are 23 different city departments, and her focus is on police and public health and pretty much nothing else beyond that point. So, that’s why we see so much of the city going in different directions and she is just not paying attention and doesn’t want to hear when it comes from aldermen.”
Lopez added, “I think that he (Emanuel) was able to understand criticism as something constructive, something that could be turned productive as opposed to this mayor who thinks that it is a personal attack on her character, her skin color, her sexual orientation depending on what day of the week we are talking about.”
Asked if he might run for mayor, Lopez laughed and said, “Anything is possible.”
But he noted the interests of the public are the most important issue and they need to be addressed by someone who cares.
“I do know I will do everything I can to ensure she doesn’t get it because I don’t think Chicago can stand two terms of Lori Lightfoot,” Lopez said.
“Because clearly, regardless of the neighborhood, all neighborhoods are struggling with her right now. Our police are struggling. We know there are approximately 1,300 retirees, eligible retirees in the police department today. I would imagine they would all bolt for the door if they had to continue operating under this kind of mayor.”
This interview is available in audio podcast form on iTunes, Spotify and other major podcasting services. Click this link to listen to it. Or use the widget below.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. His mainstream political columns are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)