Six mayoral challengers pounced on Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday for making an obscene reference to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for suggesting that last week’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade should be a prelude to overturning gay marriage.
“If you read Clarence Thomas’ concurrence,” a fired-up Lightfoot shouts from the stage at a weekend Pride in the Park event at Grant Park.
Someone from the audience yells back at the mayor and Lightfoot says, “Thank you. F- – – Clarence Thomas.”
Some in the audience appeared shocked by the mayor’s use of vulgarity in public. Others seemed delighted and repeated it.
Lightfoot appeared undaunted as she continued her attack on Thomas. “He thinks that we are going to stand idly by while they take our rights,” the mayor said.
By late afternoon Monday, nearly a million people had viewed the video of the mayor, including six of the seven mayoral challengers. The mayor’s office refused to comment.
But in a tweet Monday evening that showed Lightfoot pointing toward an audience member’s T-shirt bearing the same profane statement the mayor used, the post read, “I said what I said.”
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas said no matter how incensed the city’s first openly gay mayor is about the suggestion made in Thomas’ concurring opinion, she owes it to the office she holds and the constituents she represents to conduct herself with decorum.
“It’s pretty embarrassing. There’s ways to criticize without inciting people to mob action,” Vallas said.
“Even if you were echoing what somebody else said in the crowd, it’s dangerous and totally inappropriate,” he said. “You’re almost trying to agitate people to violence when you think about it. … If that’s not an invitation — if that’s not sanctioning it through your rhetoric — I don’t know what does.”
Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson wholeheartedly agreed. “Using that kind of language just, in my opinion, encourages violence. I condemn all things that would make anybody feel or give the impression of violence. That just ain’t the way to go.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said he “shares the concern. But there’s better ways to do that. It’s just horrible. Can’t make this stuff up.”
State Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) said, like the mayor, he is “clearly nervous about what the slippery slope” might be. But Buckner said that doesn’t excuse the mayor’s language.
“It’s not something that I would say. It’s not something that I would expect from the person who is representing this city on the public stage. We’ve got to be mindful that our young people are watching. Our young people are listening,” Buckner said.
“We’ve got to be smart about our rhetoric and about making sure we bring down the temperature and adding more humanity and more thoughtfulness into our politics,” he said.
Mayoral challenger Ray Lopez said Lightfoot’s vulgar language is more evidence that she lacks the temperament to serve as an effective mayor of Chicago.
“Either you’re pandering just to get votes or you have no respect for the office you hold,” said Lopez, one of the mayor’s most outspoken City Council critics. “It’s undignified and it’s beneath the city of Chicago to act in this manner — especially in public. It takes vulgarity to a whole new level and further diminishes the office and the respect we hope people have for it.
“She needs to apologize,” he added. “Our youth, our future leaders watch her actions. To normalize this kind of vitriolic response when you don’t get your way is just bad leadership, albeit a hallmark of her administration.”
Mayoral challenger Ja’Mal Green had a different take. He accused Lightfoot of brazenly using the Supreme Court ruling to “lure voters” while saying nothing at all about the fatal shooting of a 5-month-old baby girl.
“We need solutions right now to what’s going on … right here at home. But instead, she would rather grandstand on stage using this language because she knew it would get a certain reaction so she can get her approval numbers up. But, our babies are dying still right now,” Green said.
Last year, Lightfoot recessed a City Council meeting, left the rostrum and got into a finger-pointing shouting match with Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) as cameras rolled, stunning and disappointing even some of the mayor’s closest allies.
It happened after Taylor joined Lopez in temporarily scuttling the mayor’s appointment of Corporation Counsel Celia Meza to protest the Law Department’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by social worker Anjanette Young, who was forced to stand naked while an all-male team of police officers raided the wrong home.
On Monday, Taylor was the only alderperson contacted who said she understood why Lightfoot was so enraged by Thomas’ concurring opinion, she would make a profane public reference to the justice.
“I don’t know that I would have said it. But I understand how she feels. I understand her frustration and her being upset. If she didn’t cuss, I would be surprised … Take out that she’s the mayor. It’s her being human. She’s a grown woman who is entitled to her feelings,” Taylor said.
“I ain’t surprised that she said it. She understands that it’s like greed. They don’t stop at one set of people. It continues to go. And she is absolutely right. They are coming after gay marriage. I promise you they are. It’s next. Watch.”
Taylor said the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was “white supremacy in the worst way I’ve ever seen it in my life. “Decisions like that hurt us all.”
It’s not the first time Lightfoot has been accused of using profanity.
During the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd that devolved into two devastating rounds of looting in the summer of 2020, Lightfoot unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against Lopez.
It happened when Lopez accused the mayor of being caught flat-footed after the first round of looting that spread into South and West side neighborhoods after downtown was belatedly sealed off.
Lightfoot famously warned members of the Black Caucus who dared to vote against her 2021 budget, “Don’t ask me for s–t” when it comes to choosing projects for her five-year, $3.7 billion capital plan.
And most recently, Lightfoot branded as “deeply offensive,” “ridiculous” and “wholly lacking in merit” the claim that she made an obscene and derogatory remark against Italian Americans during a call to discuss the statue of Christopher Columbus removed from Arrigo Park.