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Johnson Picks Former Daley Building Commissioner to Serve as Corporation Counsel

Mary Richardson-Lowry is the daughter of a teacher who survived the gang-infested public schools of crime-ridden Compton, California, to serve as Chicago’s building commissioner and then as School Board President under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. .

Now, she is Mayor Brandon Johnson’s pick for one of the most trusted and sensitive positions in city government.

Richardson-Lowry was chosen Thursday to be corporate counsel to Johnson, the city’s top attorney and head of an internal Legal Department that controls a $32.9 million budget and millions of dollars in outside legal fees.

She is the third Daley alumna to join the Johnson administration. The others are chief of staff Rich Guidice and director of operations John Roberson.

The $195,708-a-year position has been vacant since late March, when Corporate Counsel Celia Meza, the first Latina to serve as Chicago’s corporate counsel, abruptly resigned amid the transition from one administration to another.

Normally, the corporation’s lawyer stays until after the inauguration as a courtesy to the new mayor. Without the wealth of knowledge that can be invaluable to the new administration, Johnson and his team were at a distinct disadvantage.

Now, he will have Richardson-Lowry to advise him on sensitive legal matters and be with him at City Council meetings.

In a press release announcing the appointment, Johnson was quoted as saying he is “grateful for the experience she brings to this role from her successful legal career” and looks forward to working closely with her to “advance our administration’s commitments.” with ethics, responsibility, and transparency, and fostering a city government that efficiently complies with residents and taxpayers.”

Richardson-Lowry was quoted as saying that she is “honoured by the opportunity” to serve as corporate counsel after beginning her career as an attorney with the Legal Department.

Mary Richardson-Lowry addresses reporters during a January 2012 press conference in which then-Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that she was his choice to serve as president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Mary Richardson-Lowry addresses reporters during a January 2012 press conference in which then-Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that she was his choice to serve as president of the Chicago Board of Education.

The new counselor of the corporation said that its objective is “to seek an ethical and equitable municipal government that is responsible in the use of taxpayers’ money and transparent to the public.”

During Richardson-Lowry’s action-packed tenure as Chicago building commissioner, chunks of terracotta have fallen from aging and poorly maintained buildings.

Glass from a broken window at the CNA Tower fell 29 stories, killing a 38-year-old woman who was walking hand-in-hand through the Loop with her three-year-old daughter.

Scaffolding whipping in hurricane force winds at the John Hancock Center broke loose and fell to the ground, killing three people in the cars below.

Despite all of the building’s setbacks, Richardson-Lowry was perhaps best known for ushering in an era of “toilet parity” in Chicago.

He got his picture in People magazine after drafting a new version of the city’s archaic plumbing code that paved the way for a dramatic increase in women’s restrooms in new or rehabbed public places.

“We had a code that was draconian. It never addressed the fact that women like to go to public places and there was a need to provide proper toilets, particularly for women who wanted to bring their children,” said Richardson-Lowry, who was replaced by Roberson, the day she gave up returning to the practice of law.

Mary Richardson-Lowry, then city building commissioner, in August 2000 at the site of a building collapse.

Mary Richardson-Lowry, then city building commissioner, in August 2000 at the site of a building collapse.

In 2010, Daley elected Richardson-Lowry as president of the Chicago Board of Education. She replaced Michael Scott Sr., Daley’s old confidante who committed suicide months before.

Richardson-Lowry was a good fit, given her history of surviving gang-infested public schools.

“I had to walk through gang territory to get to school. I know how that is. … There were challenges in terms of supplies with the schools. I know how that is. But I also know what it’s like when people make an investment” in public schools, she said that day.

“I am a product of public schools. I know that when people make the investment, when they have the kind of focus that this mayor has, anything is possible. By all rights, I shouldn’t have survived some of my early years, and I did. Someone made an investment in me.”

Richardson-Lowry’s selection to head CPS came just hours before a series of public hearings on plans to close or remodel 14 schools.

During her tenure as board chair, the Chicago Board of Education addressed the worst fiscal crisis since Daley’s 1995 takeover of the school by giving school officials the power to increase class sizes up to 35 students over the next two years.

During a dramatic emergency meeting, board members also blocked any possibility of a teacher strike over wages by indicating they hoped to deliver on promised 4% pay increases to teachers and seven other school unions, an increase valued at $135 million.

At the same time, the board agreed to give then-Schools CEO Ron Huberman the authority to obtain a line of credit of up to $800 million. The near-term bridge was needed to cover more than $400 million in missed state aid payments and boost a reserve fund that will soon be reduced to the equivalent of a week’s operating costs.

In front of a packed room, seven school board members unanimously approved all of the emergency measures presented to them to help cover an estimated $427 million shortfall. Richardson-Lowry called the moment “extraordinary”.