Rubbing Elbows

10,000 Hours: From the Windy City to Washington 


Illustra­tion by
Peter Hoey

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

During her May 2019 inauguration as Chicago’s 56th mayor, Lori Lightfoot, WSP ’83—the city’s first Black female and openly gay leader—struck a hopeful, humble tone: Chicago’s most serious challenges “can only be solved if we face them together.” A former attorney and city administrator, the Democrat felt prepared for the awesome responsibility of running the nation’s third-largest city. But Lightfoot—a 2021 distinguished lecturer with AU’s Sine Institute of Policy and Politics—couldn’t have envisioned leading Chicago through a once-in-a-century pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 constituents and spawned what she calls a once-in-a-generation economic meltdown. “Obviously fate had a different plan,” Lightfoot says, “but we’ve persevered.”

1962: Born in Massillon, Ohio, the youngest of four children.

1975: Watched her mother, Ann, embark on a decades-long run on the Massillon Board of Education. “Working-class people would show up at our house unannounced and call at all hours. They trusted her to be their voice.”

1977: Won the first of three class president elections at Massillon Washington High School. Her slogan: Get on the right foot with Lightfoot.

1981: Dared a University of Michigan classmate to drive their group of friends to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day. “I still get goosebumps thinking about coming over the Skyway and seeing the outline of the city for the first time.”

1982: Worked as a cook for the Michigan football team, one of seven jobs that paid for her political science degree. “I have never seen people eat as much food as those guys.”

1983: Participated in AU’s Washington Semester Program, interning for Congressman Ralph Regula (R-OH), who represented Massillon.

1986: Earned a full scholarship to study law at the University of Chicago. “For law school, I was thinking about a permanent [home]. Growing up reading Jet and Ebony, I had this very pristine view of what Chicago was.”

1989: Clerked after graduation for Justice Charles Levin of the Michigan Supreme Court. 

1996: Became an assistant US attorney in the Northern District of Illinois, trying cases ranging from public corruption to violent crime. 

1998: Noticed, from her office window, a tall woman, Amy Eshleman, walking across Federal Plaza toward City Hall. They began dating in 2003. “We’ve been together ever since.” 

2002: Tapped as chief administrator of the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards, where she investigated allegations of misconduct. 

2005: Returned to the private sector as a partner at Mayer Brown, where she was an associate from 1990 to 1996.

2009: Mourned the loss of her father, Elijah. “Earlier on [in his life] my father was gravely ill, in a coma for a year. The doctors had given him up for dead. That struggle shaped a segment of my family’s life.”

2014: Married Eshleman on May 31, just as same-sex marriage legalization took effect in Illinois. They have a daughter, Vivian. 

2018: Announced her run for mayor, seeking to “forge a new path” for Chicago “in which equity and inclusion are our guiding principles.” 

2019: Watched a college basketball game as election results trickled in. “My pollster had said, ‘You’ll be lucky if you finish third.’” Was the top vote-getter among 14 candidates. 

Claimed 73.7 percent of the vote in an April two-way runoff. 

2020: Launched Chicago’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, just three months after the city’s first positive case. 

2021: Joined the Sine Institute as a distinguished lecturer, along with Miami mayor Francis Suarez. She will host a virtual conversation with the AU community in September. 

Announced three new development projects as part of Invest South/West, a $750 million plan to revitalize 10 commercial cores in underserved areas of Chicago. “You can’t quickly undo decades of disinvestment and the cascading inequities that flow from it, but you can make progress if you’re intentional and determined to get it done.”