By Laaiba Mahmood
Editor’s note: This is Laaiba Mahmood’s first-person account of why she was denied access to Lori Lightfoot’s election-night party along with Red Line Project photographer Lulu Anjanette. Anjanette left to cover the Paul Vallas event. Mahmood wrote this story.
Lori Lightfoot’s PR team cited fire code and room capacity restrictions for denying me entry to their election night event at the Mid-American Carpenters Regional Council building, despite trying to RSVP to the event for over a week prior.
When I arrived at the press check-in table after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, I said that I had been in contact with Hannah Goss, a campaign spokesperson for Lightfoot’s election campaign.
Multiple staffers were sent to hear my concerns, which they then passed on to Goss. Goss said I would not be allowed entry into the event because I did not RSVP and that they could not make an exception because of fire codes.
“We might be turning away attendees at the door as well,” Goss said.
I was at the venue until 8:30 p.m., just 15 minutes before Lightfoot came on stage and conceded the race. I did not witness a single person get turned away except for me.
Goss returned 30 minutes after initially turning me away. When I asked for precise information on the fire code and room capacity limits, Goss asked, “So you can write about not being let into the event?”
Lightfoot PR team citing fire code for mostly empty site and that reporters had not RSVP’d for event, though they didn’t respond to our numerous requests over the past two weeks.
— The Red Line Project (@redlineproject) March 1, 2023
When confronted about a reporter who entered the room without being on the press list, Goss said, “I’ve been talking to that reporter for a week.”
I was also in contact with Goss for over a week via phone and email, and was never once given the opportunity to RSVP to the event.
In the week leading up to the event, I was told that the venue was small, there would be limited press access and that I should not expect to be let into the event. The morning of the event, I told them I would show up anyway.
Meanwhile, my colleagues had no issues attending the election night events of other top contenders for mayor.
The Lightfoot PR team allowed the publications they wanted in the room to enter, including a Washington Post reporter who was not on the RSVP list.
Mike Reilley, founder and editor of The Red Line Project and a UIC senior lecturer, said this is unprecedented in the site’s 13-year history.
“We have covered elections at the federal, state and local levels and have NEVER been denied access to an election night event,” he said. “That includes President Obama’s reelection, several Illinois gubernatorial candidates, US Senate and House races, as well as mayoral and other municipal races. Our reporters contacted the Lightfoot campaign more than a week prior to the event and asked to be added to the list. It’s a case study in poor media relations.
“Fortunately, our reporters covering the Vallas and Brandon Johnson campaigns were treated professionally on election night. We look forward to covering both of those candidates in the runoff election on April 4.”
Slideshow: Photos from the election night parties