CHICAGO (CBS) — Calling her a “pioneering leader for women’s rights,” the Chicago City Council honored the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Wednesday, one of three memorial tributes Mayor Lori Lightfoot and aldermen discussed for nearly an hour on Wednesday.
The mayor and aldermen also celebrated the legacies of former Gov. James “Big Jim” Thompson, the longest-serving governor in Illinois history, who died in August; and Rev. Leon Finney, a longtime South Side activist and developer who died in September.
Lightfoot and the council began their tributes with Ginsburg, who died of complications from pancreatic cancer on Sept. 18.
“She consistently confronted but overcame sexism as she built her career. Justice Ginsburg was a pioneering leader for women’s rights. I think there’s no question whatsoever about that fact,” Lightfoot said. “Justice Ginsburg’s legacy as a champion for marginalized groups across identities of race, gender, economic status, sexual orientation, disability status, and religion will endure for a lifetime, and we have al benefitted from Justice Ginsburg’s body of work. We mourn her passing, but we must make sure that we live up to the legacy that she set for this entire country, particularly for women.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said Ginsburg “made possible lots of women’s careers, like mine.”
She also noted that Ginsburg not only was the first female member of the prestigious legal journal, the Harvard Law Review, but she and her daughter, Jane, were the first mother-daughter pair to attend Harvard Law School.
“It must be very difficult to mourn someone who is also a parent and also a figure on the world stage. What I do know is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a mom who supported their children in their pursuits, and loved Jim’s efforts to create a classical musical label here in Chicago,” Smith told Justice Ginsburg’s daughter and son, Jim, who both attended the virtual City Council meeting.
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) said Ginsburg had a “generational impact,” including on his own daughter, who joined him at the virtual City Council meeting, donning a Ginsburg t-shirt.
“It’s not just those who experienced her long career or her long life that she’s impacted, but it’s young people like my daughter here who’s been inspired by her work,” Rodriguez said. “Thank you for sharing her life with all of us. She’s a legend and surely will be missed.”
Justice Ginsburg’s son, Jim, a Grammy-winning music producer, graduated from the University of Chicago, and still lives in the city.
“My mother always said that if she could have had any other career, and had the talent for it, she would have been a great opera diva. So I am happy to represent the musical side of her, her passions,” he said.
Jane Ginsburg said it was a “tremendous honor” to have the City Council honor their mother.
Lightfoot and aldermen also paid tribute to Thompson and Finney, calling both men “true sons of Chicago.”
The mayor noted Thompson, who died on Aug. 14, was not only the state’s longest-serving governor, but was born and raised on the West Side, studied at University of Illinois at Chicago, and got his law degree from Northwestern University.
Thompson’s widow, Jayne Carr Thompson, said the her late husband would have considered the tribute from the City Council among the most meaningful honors of his life.
“As all of you know, Jim enjoyed being governor, and he loved every part of this state, but he was a Chicago boy born and bred, and never lost his deep-seated feelings for the city, and for Garfield Park, where he was born, and he maintained his love affair with the city, and indeed lived in this city – with the exception of the time that he spent in Springfield – all of his life,” she said.
Meantime, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) called Rev. Finney “a titan of the South Side.”
Finney made his name in the 1960s by fighting slum lords and opposing the University of Chicago’s expansion plans in the Woodlawn neighborhood. He helped build the Woodlawn Organization into one of the most influential community groups in Chicago.
“I think Dr. Finney led a tremendously impactful life, a life that was full of achievements that not only were her achievements, but achievements for the community, and these are lasting achievements. He will always remain an inspiration to the people of the city of Chicago, and especially African Americans who desire and seek change within their communities,” Dowell said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said Finney worked tirelessly to make sure people had a better future.
“He knew the power of the people, and he utilized that to build stronger communities to impact people. That is the person that you want to take to a good political fight. Better yet, that’s the person you want to take to a fight, period, because he is always prepared. He was always prepared,”
Lightfoot told Finney’s daughter, Kristin Finney-Cooke, that she and Finney butted heads a few times when she was a young lawyer, but she always appreciated that he spent his life trying to make Chicago “better for all.”
“I had the opportunity to bump up against your father in a couple of different circumstances, mostly in my role as a lawyer, fighting for causes with which he did not agree, but I always knew that when he walked in the room, and he cut such a wide dignified swath, that there was somebody who had a formidable intellect, a great strategist, and a very kind heart, even as we were battling often on opposite sides of an issue,” Lightfoot said.
“His heart would be very warm to hear all the comments” Finney-Cooke said. “He loved Chicago. This was his stomping ground. He loved Woodlawn and all the neighboring areas, of course.”