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Cannabis Chief’s Abrupt Firing Leads to Speculation

Lightfoot declines to offer a reason for canning well-regarded weed guru

By Ken Kurson, August 26, 2020 2:46 pm

Mayor Lori Lightfoot. (Photo by Prachatai)

The revolving door on City Hall has been revolving rather quickly this week.

This morning, the mayor announced that Jim Smith, chief of her security detail, had resigned and that his last day was yesterday.

Smith, who came from the U.S. Marshal Service instead of the CPD, had always been something of an odd fit. So the news didn’t come as much of a surprise, particularly as questions mount about “Fort Lori” and the decision to close off the Mayor’s entire street in Logan Square to ward off protests.

Much more jarring was the sudden departure of Paul Stewart, the mayor’s widely respected top cannabis adviser. Even more jarring than the Venezuela style disappearance is that no one can figure out why Stewart was fired.

The mayor’s spokesman Pat Mullane emailed Chicago Mundo Hoy the same statement he’s given to all the newspapers: “Mr. Stewart is no longer an employee at the Mayor’s Office. As this is a personnel matter, we will not be commenting any further.”

In a brief phone call with Chicago Mundo Hoy, Mullane offered the same line when asked to elaborate on the terse statement.

“I can’t – we’re not going to comment beyond the statement provided.” He declined to offer any guidance, saying “this is how we’ve treated all personnel matter.”

A CMH reporter responded, “That’s not exactly true. When the police superintendent [Eddie Johnson] was fired, the mayor offered an extensive explanation.”

Mullane responded with a distinction: “The police commissioner is an appointee. This is a staff member of the mayor’s office. We’re not commenting beyond that.”

Stewart himself didn’t share much, either. When the Tribune reached him for “a brief interview, Stewart declined to say why he was let go but said Lightfoot has ‘the right to move in whatever direction she wants to.’”

Chicago Mundo Hoy reached out to a well-connected source who knows and has worked with Stewart to see if anything could be gleaned.

According to the source, who insisted on anonymity to avoid being dragged into what may turn into a thornier matter, it’s unlikely that Stewart had violated any laws.

“Paul Stewart comes out of the 17th Ward organization. That’s led by Latasha Thomas,” referring to the former four-term alderman. “I’ve never seen a more careful lawyer in terms of compliance than Latasha. She’s like OCD about it. So [Stewart] got trained up by people who are very careful about their ethics. So my guess is that this is a political issue not an ethics issue. Remember, Lightfoot fired John Arena for his politics; it’s believed he was circulating for the wrong guy. So I don’t know what happened with Stewart, I just doubt it was something nefarious, even though that’s everybody’s first thought.”

John Arena had been the 45th Ward Alderman who became a vocal critic of Mayor Emanuel. His endorsement of Lori Lightfoot during the 2019 runoff against Toni Preckwinkle earned him an invitation to serve as a special advisor in the planning department. But just six months later, in December 2019, Arena showed up at a meeting hosted by the Alderman who unseated him, Jim Gardiner (45th), and distributed handbills and collected signatures on behalf of Ellen Hill, who ran against Gardiner for Democratic committeeman. In addition to campaigning against him from the comfort of a $130k job, Gardiner also accused Arena of taking a seat in the front row of the meeting and giving Gardiner the finger, an accusation backed by at least one other attendee.

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