‘Lori Leadfoot’ is racking up speed camera and red light tickets that go unpaid, city records show

An SUV assigned to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot blows through a red light. | City of Chicago; NASCAR

After a months-long battle led by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the City Council last week rejected an alderman’s proposal to give drivers a 10 mph buffer before the city’s prolific speed cameras issue citations. The threshold used to be 10 mph, but at Lightfoot’s request, the council reduced it to 6 mph during the 2021 budget season. She claimed that the change was necessary to make roads safer. Critics argued that she was looking for more money to help balance the city’s budget.

But it turns out that two of the police-driven SUVs that currently shuttle Lightfoot around town have racked up three speed camera tickets and two warnings in the past 14 months. The city’s finance office confirmed that none of the fines had been paid as of July 22.

One of the mayor’s current SUVs also has a red light ticket. It’s also unpaid. 

There are also outstanding speed and red light tickets on two SUVs that used to be assigned to Lightfoot’s security team, according to city records. Records show one of those SUVs is now eligible to be booted and impounded due to a lack of payment.

Her old cars received many more tickets, but the city had a practice of dismissing Lightfoot’s tickets—until the Chicago Tribune reported on the practice in November 2020.

We contacted Lightfoot’s office about this story on Friday. Advised of our deadline, a spokesperson on Monday said they were still preparing a response. (Editor’s note: The mayor’s office provided a statement on Tuesday afternoon, about 19 hours after this story was published. The statement is included at the end of this report.)

Doing it for the children

“No one likes speed cameras. I get it,” Lightfoot said last month as the debate over returning the ticketing threshold to 10 mph raged. “But this is life or death that we’re talking about here, and we’ve got to step up as a city and address this.”

“It is unconscionable that any City Council member would consider voting to allow for increased speeds near spaces utilized by our children,” Lightfoot continued.

But Lightfoot’s concern for the children seems to come and go. Two of the speed violations that we found against her SUVs occurred in school zones with “school child present,” according to the citations.

On November 5, one of Lightfoot’s SUVs received a warning for traveling through Washington Park at 39 mph. She was on her way to hold a press conference about the city’s COVID vaccination efforts at, ironically, Comer Children’s Hospital.

The warning didn’t work. Her SUVs sped past the same location again on March 9, and the system sent out a $70 ticket. Status: unpaid.

“It makes no sense for us to increase the speed around the parks and schools when we know what the horrific consequences are for pedestrians and other drivers,” the mayor said last week.

A year ago, on July 30, one of Lightfoot’s SUVs zipped past Orr Academy High School at 43 mph. The speed camera ticket, now a whopping $244, is flagged as “school child present.”

One of her old SUVs whizzed by Jones College Prep at 39 mph in February 2020, also with a “school child present.” It’s the only violation we found that shows an SUV’s hidden police lights activated. A warning was issued.

Last October, one of Lightfoot’s SUVs took a leisurely left-hand turn through a red light at 800 North Sacramento. The city is still owed $244 for that ticket. There’s a “notice of seizure” out for the car, according to city records.

Happy anniversary

May 20 of last year was a memorable day for Lightfoot. It was the second anniversary of her swearing-in as mayor. As she celebrated the day by famously refusing to give anniversary interviews to White journalists, her two SUVs flew past Samuel Gompers Park at 39 mph. The city issued a speed warning as her anniversary gift.

Last month, one of her SUVs sped past the same spot at 41 mph. The $100 ticket remains unpaid.

Same thing, only different

Lightfoot’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, also racked up a sizable stack of red light and speed camera violations. But, unlike Lightfoot, his tickets were paid—after the public learned that the tickets were outstanding.

Emanuel initially paid off his motorcade’s tickets with personal funds, but he later said his drivers would be responsible for paying for future violations.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s official cars have also been caught in red light and speed camera violations. However, many of her tickets were unpaid until CWB reported on the problem. She said she would pay them. Instead, she fought them in court and had most of them dismissed.

“Hypocrisy”

“Yet another Lightfoot hypocrisy,” said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), who is running against Lightfoot in the upcoming election cycle. “Saying motorists need to slow down while her taxpayer-funded motorcade continues to rack up speed and red-light tickets. This is not unique to her being mayor, sadly, as she racked up plenty of speeding tickets in Ohio also.”

Lopez voted last week to return the ticketing threshold to 10 mph.

Paul Vallas, another candidate for mayor, chimed in, too.

“Sadly, Lightfoot is consistent in her ‘rules for thee but not for me,’ whether it’s her mask mandates while she partied maskless in large crowds, having a significant security presence around her home but not in poor communities dealing with violence day in and day out, or fining Chicagoans to death for speeding, while she doesn’t adhere to her own standards,” Vallas said.

Rep. Kam Buckner (26th), also running for mayor, did not provide a comment for this report.

UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, the mayor’s office issued the following statement:

The Mayor’s Detail is responsible for the safety and security of Mayor Lightfoot. Members of the Mayor’s Detail are trained in a variety of safety and security techniques to keep the Mayor safe and that includes both vehicles staying in formation while en route. The Mayor has repeatedly stressed to the Detail traffic safety and that running red lights is never acceptable. Like with all citations incurred by City or other safety and security vehicles by other agencies, they go through an administrative process to review if City vehicles were in use for safety or security reasons and subsequently the Department of Finance will determine whether the party is responsible. Payment is not collected until that process is concluded. Individual members of the Mayor’s Detail are responsible for payment of tickets incurred while they are driving.

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About CWBChicago 6549 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com