Newly elected Chicago mayor: Victory means ‘a city reborn’

CHICAGO – Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s resounding victory was a clear call for change at City Hall and a historic repudiation of the old-style, insider politics that have long defined the nation’s third-largest city.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who’d never been elected to public office, defeated Cook County Board President and longtime City Council member Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday with backing from voters across the city. Late results showed Lightfoot, 56, winning every one of the city’s 50 wards.

Lightfoot also made history, becoming the first African American woman and the first openly lesbian person to be elected Chicago mayor. Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to have an African American woman serve as mayor when Lightfoot is sworn in May 20. She will join seven other African American women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans, and will be the second woman to lead Chicago.

“Out there tonight a lot of little girls and boys are watching. They’re watching us, and they’re seeing the beginning of something, well, a little bit different,” Lightfoot told a jubilant crowd at a downtown hotel. “They’re seeing a city reborn.”

She pledged to make Chicago “a place where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny,” to address the city’s violence and to “break this city’s endless cycle of corruption” that allows politicians to profit from their office.

Lightfoot emerged as the surprising leader in the first round of voting in February when 14 candidates were on the ballot to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided against running for a third term.

She seized on outrage over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald to launch her reformer campaign. She got in the race even before Emanuel announced he wouldn’t seek re-election amid criticism for initially resisting calls to release video of the shooting.

Joyce Ross, 64, a resident of the city’s predominantly black or African American West Side who is a certified nursing assistant, cast her ballot Tuesday for Lightfoot. Ross said she believes Lightfoot will be better able to clean up the police department and curb the city’s violence.

She was also bothered by Preckwinkle’s association with longtime Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted earlier this year on charges he tried to shake down a restaurant owner who wanted to build in his ward.

“My momma always said birds of a feather flock together,” Ross said.

Preckwinkle said she called Lightfoot Tuesday night to congratulate her on a “hard-fought campaign.”

“While I may be disappointed I’m not disheartened. For one thing, this is clearly a historic night,” she told a crowd gathered in her South Side neighborhood. “Not long ago two African American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable. And while it may be true that we took two very different paths to get here, tonight is about the path forward.”

That path will have major challenges. Chicago has been losing population, particularly in predominantly African American neighborhoods hit hardest by violence and a lack of jobs.

The new mayor will take over a city that faces massive financial problems. She will have just a few months to prepare a new budget, which in 2020 is expected to have a roughly $250 million deficit. Lightfoot also will take over the worst-funded public pensions of any major U.S. city. Chicago’s annual payments to the retirement systems are slated to grow by $1.2 billion by 2023.

She has expressed support for a casino in Chicago and changing the state’s income tax system to a graduated tax, in which higher earners are taxed at a higher rate—two measures lawmakers have tried for unsuccessfully for years to pass.

Violence and policing will also continue to be an issue, and one that has proven to be politically difficult.

The Chicago Police Department must implement a federally monitored consent decree approved in January. It followed the McDonald killing and a U.S. Justice Department review that found a long history of excessive use of force and racial bias by officers.

While voters also elected several newcomers over City Council veterans, Lightfoot will have to work with a council that has a sizable number of members who are the type of politicians she railed against during her campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Former New York teacher threatens lawsuit against school

NEW YORK CITY – A former New York middle school teacher has threatened to sue a school district in New York State, saying it was because of a topless photo of herself had gone public.

“My career has been ruined, my reputation has been tarnished,” said 25-year-old teacher Lauren Miranda. “I have been stigmatized.”

Attorney John Ray said South Country School District fired his client from her job teaching mathematics at Bellport Middle School on Long Island last week because the superintendent said Miranda wasn’t a good role model after a photo of her exposed chest was leaked to a student. Since January, Miranda has been on leave from teaching with pay.

“That picture was never posted,” Miranda said. “How it got out is the million-dollar question.”

Miranda said she plans to file a $3 million claim against the district, accusing the school system of treating her unfairly because she’s a woman, local sources in New York have reported.

“I am a teacher who is being penalized for being a woman,” Miranda said. “My future has been condemned because I am a female, with female breasts, seen in a mild selfie.”

Miranda’s attorney said his client will drop her planned lawsuit if she’s reinstated at the school, but he said the district told Miranda that’s not going to happen.

The district has stayed quiet on the issue.

“The district does not comment on active litigation,” the superintendent said in a statement.

Ray said the district held a meeting about the selfie in which they called Miranda in and questioned her, as the leaked picture was “displayed in full color, with all the men in the room sitting there,” local sources report.

“What is wrong with my image?” Miranda asked at the press conference Monday, according to ABC News local NYC station, WABC. “It’s my breasts. It’s my chest. It’s my body. It’s something that should be celebrated.”

Censored topless picture of Lauren
Lauren Miranda’s topless selfie, censored

It’s also a double standard, her attorney said.

“Anytime a man has ever exposed his chest, no one has ever commented or had any problem with it whatsoever,” Ray said, according to WABC. “But when a woman displays her chest, as happened here, she gets fired from her job.”

According to legal documents, it is legal in New York for women to go topless in public.

Miranda is considering teaching roles in other districts, local sources report.

Performance evaluations on Miranda, who was to be considered for tenure in June, described her as an “outstanding math instructor, knowledgeable of her content area, but most of all genuinely dedicated to the academic progress of all of her students.”

Miranda said one reason she’s fighting the dismissal is to send a message to female students.

“What message is that saying to the girls who have their photos airdropped all over the high school and sent all over?” Miranda said, according to WABC. “What message are we sending to them? To roll over when your picture gets exposed without your permission or consent? So how am I now not being a role model to them?”

Some parents said the school district made the right choice.

“Whether her intentions were for the picture to get out or not, it happened—and now you have to be responsible for your actions,” said parent Randy Miller.

Miranda said she doesn’t regret snapping the picture and sending it to her then-boyfriend.

“I’m proud of my body,” she said, according to local reports.

US finds “severe” problems in Alabama prisons

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The U.S. Justice Department has determined that Alabama’s prisons are violating the U.S. Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse and by housing them in unsafe and overcrowded facilities, according to a scathing report Wednesday that described the problems as “severe” and “systemic.”

The Federal Government also is putting the state on notice that it may sue if officials there don’t make improvements soon.

“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who leads the department’s civil rights division. “The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns.”

The report detailed a litany of problems in the state’s 13 prisons for men, which together house roughly 16,000 inmates. Those include an overcrowding rate that the Justice Department says ranks among the highest in the nation and a “crisis level” staffing shortage.

In a single week in September 2017, the report found, two inmates stood guard at the doors of a dormitory in one facility while two others repeatedly stabbed a prisoner who eventually bled to death; an inmate at another facility was stabbed and had to be evacuated by helicopters; and a prisoner in a dorm reserved for inmates with good behavior was woken from sleep when two inmates attacked him with a sock filled with metal locks.

The report is only the latest blow to the troubled Alabama prison system, which has come under criticism for violence, overcrowding and a high suicide rate. A federal judge in 2017 ruled that the state has provided “horrendously inadequate” care to mentally ill inmates.

The findings are the result of an investigation opened in 2016 at the end of the Obama administration, which was aggressive in launching wide-ranging investigations into troubled police departments and corrections systems. In a number of cases, those probes led to agreements to make changes under federal oversight. The Trump administration, in contrast, has taken a more hands-off approach.

Before he left office last year, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime Alabama senator, released a memo limiting the use of consent decrees struck between the Federal Government and local agencies under investigation.

Alabama has been trying to address crowding through sentencing reform, but the threat of a federal lawsuit will force the state to address other issues such as sexual assaults in prisons, said Republican state Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs a legislative prison oversight committee.

“We don’t have much of a choice. Something has got to happen,” Ward said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

US investigates seizure risk with electronic cigarettes

WASHINGTON – U.S. health officials are investigating whether electronic cigarettes may trigger seizures in some people who use the nicotine-vaping devices.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday it has reviewed 35 reports of seizures among e-cigarettes users, mainly in young people. Regulators stressed it’s not yet clear whether vaping is responsible. But they said they’re concerned and encouraged the public to report information about the issue.

These cases warrant “investigation into whether there is in fact a connection,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb is stepping down on Friday after nearly two years heading the agency.

Cases go back to 2010 and were reported to the FDA or poison control centers around the country. Regulators said they detected an uptick in reports beginning mid-2018. While they represent a tiny fraction of Americans who have used e-cigarettes, many safety issues with foods, supplements and other consumer products can go unrecognized because reporting is voluntary.

Most e-cigarettes heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. The battery-powered devices have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry though there are few standards, including how much nicotine they deliver. Additionally, many refillable e-cigarettes can be used with nicotine formulas of varying strength.

Nicotine poisoning can cause seizures, convulsions, vomiting and brain injury. The FDA has previously warned of potentially fatal nicotine poisoning in infants and children who accidentally swallowed nicotine solutions.

Seizures usually last a few seconds or minutes and rarely cause permanent injury. But they can be a sign of underlying neurological disorders that need medical attention.

The agency said the handful of seizure reports often lack information about the brand of e-cigarette or whether users had a medical condition that might have contributed. In some cases, e-cigarettes were being used with drugs like marijuana and amphetamines. Some seizures were reported after just a few puffs of the device, others after a day of use.

The FDA is asking consumers to report problems to an online site. The agency is seeking details about vaping brands and models and whether users who have experienced problems were also taking medications, supplements or other drugs.

It’s not the first time the FDA has flagged a potential health hazard with vaping devices—the agency has warned of rare burns and explosions related to overheating of batteries that power the devices.

The latest concern comes amid a nationwide push to fight underage use of e-cigarettes, which have surged in popularity among high school and middle school students. Last month the FDA outlined new restrictions on retail and online sales of most flavored e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, local and state officials are considering age restrictions, taxes and flavor bans to keep the products away from teenagers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.