Our full conversation can be heard on the latest episode of the Radio Atlantic podcast.
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What follows is a condensed and lightly edited transcript.
Edward-Isaac Dovere: Being a politician is new for you. How has the adjustment been to becoming one?
Lori Lightfoot: I go to places and people say to me, ‘I’ve never met a mayor before. I’ve never seen a mayor in my neighborhood.’ And these are not, you know, teenagers or 20-somethings. These are our elders, people who are 60, 70, or older.
Dovere: You grew up in a small town in Ohio, and the injustices you and your family faced there seem to have defined you. What left the greatest impact?
Lightfoot: We were the factory workers. We were the people who clean your houses. But being one of the few black families that lived in my neighborhood forever, that definitely left an indelible mark on me. I grew up at a time when racial discrimination was still very much on the top of the table, not under it. And no question that I was denied opportunities solely on the basis of my race.
The expectations for me were so low. But that’s not how I viewed my life. And it’s certainly not how my parents, and particularly my mother, viewed my life. The other thing that definitely shaped my experience as a child is watching my father struggle. My father was deaf my entire growing-up years. And seeing how difficult it was for him to be part of just that conversation, be part of a community, and knowing his experience, particularly in the workplace, being denied opportunities because of his disability, being treated differently and worse because he couldn’t hear—that had a profound effect on me.
Dovere: We are living through a moment when people are reconsidering what government does, what it should do, whether they can trust the government. Should people distrust the government, based on what you’ve seen?
Lightfoot: I certainly understand why people feel that way in the crosscurrents that have been blowing for some time—that I think are very much responsible for the election of Donald Trump. I get it. I get why people have lost confidence not only just in government, but in the governance of people. It’s important for us to understand that loss of confidence in public servants and public service, but all the more urgent for us to regain that trust. Our democracy depends upon participation. And as more and more people opt out and feel like government is irrelevant to their lives, that makes the challenges that we have to face and the problems that we have to solve … We have way too many people in public life who feel like they’ve won the lottery and that their primary mission is to make sure that they have a lot of pecuniary gain at the public’s expense.
Dovere: President Trump has often taken shots at Chicago. If you could show him the city on a tour, where would you take him?