On Tuesday evening, Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot finished first among a field of 14 challengers, the most in the city’s history, even as voter turnout hit record-low levels citywide.
Lightfoot, a lesbian who would be the city’s first out LGBTQ mayor if elected, heads to an April 2 runoff election against Cook County President and former South Side Alderman Toni Preckwinkle.
As a result, Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, is poised to have its first African-American female mayor in history.
That a significant development for a city where racial tensions were so bad during the 1980s that the city was dubbed “Beirut on the Lake” for the infamous “Council Wars” that pitted a group of white (and one Latino) aldermen known as the “Vrdolyak 29” against 21 African-American and white liberal aldermen who had thrown their support behind Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first African-American mayor.
In her victory speech, Lightfoot played up her “outsider” credentials, even citing her status as a member of the LGBTQ community.
“This, my friends, is what change looks like,” she said. I want to thank the voters of this great city for fighting through the noise and coming to a place where we brought in the light.
“As an LGBTQ+ person, I thought about running for mayor when no other LGBTQ+ person had ever made the ballot for mayor in this city. And as a mayoral candidate, I traveled across the city and saw people who looked like me and families like mine who were struggling in every neighborhood.
“I’m not here despite these hardships, despite the odds. I’m here because my personal and professional experiences have prepared me to lead with compassion, integrity and persistence,” Lightfoot added. “I’m here because I know on a deeply personal level that we need change.”
Styling herself as an outsider and reform candidate (despite holding various appointed positions under former mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel), Lightfoot streaked to a first-place finish with 17.5% of the vote, while several of her competitors, including Preckwinkle, became bogged down by their ties to longtime Southwest Side Alderman Ed Burke, who has been charged with attempted extortion in a federal corruption probe for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owner.
Perhaps most galling, from Preckwinkle’s perspective, was that her ties to Burke, a former City Council colleague with whom she developed a working relationship as both alderman and, after her election as County Board President in 2010, chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, forced her to temporarily cede the “reformer” and “progressive” mantles to Lightfoot.
(Ironically, as one of a small group of independent aldermen who would occasionally challenge Richard M. Daley’s vise-like grip over the city ‘s affairs during her five terms on the Council, Preckwinkle often found herself pitted against Burke when it came to policy, thus proving the truism that politics makes strange bedfellows. Burke was also infamous for serving as one of the floor leaders of the “Vrdolyak 29” prior to Preckwinkle’s election to the Council.)
Preckwinkle earned the second berth in the runoff by garnering 16% of the vote, finishing about 6,000 votes ahead of third-place finisher Bill Daley, a former Secretary of Commerce under Bill Clinton and chief of staff for President Barack Obama, and the father and brother of two of the city’s longest-serving mayors, Richard J. and Richard M. Daley.
In her victory speech, Preckwinkle took shots at Lightfoot’s lack of elected political experience and attempted to seize back the “progressive” label for which she has been known for most of her political career by linking Lightfoot to former mayors Daley and Emanuel — both business-friendly Democrats, and neither of whom has ever been a friend to political progressives.
“While my opponent was taking multiple appointments in the Daley and Emanuel administrations, I fought the power elite who have been trying to hold this city back,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s not enough to stand at a podium and talk about what you want to see happen. You have to come to this job with the capacity and the capability to make your vision a reality.”
Lightfoot, who initially started far behind in the polls, was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund prior to Tuesday. Following her first-place finish, the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s endorsement board unanimously agreed to upgrade her to a “Spotlight Endorsement,” entitling her to receive additional campaign and fundraising support from the organization, which seeks to elect out LGBTQ candidates to political office.
“Despite not having a legacy last name or a rolodex of rich friends, Lori’s fighting spirit and ability to transcend the murky machinations of Chicago politics has made the unlikely a reality — and Chicagoans will be better for it,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and the former Mayor of Houston, said in a statement.
“While Lori is determined to improve the lives of all the city’s residents — whether downtown or on the South Side — the historic nature of her candidacy provides Chicagoans the rare opportunity to bring fresh perspectives and experiences to city hall,” Parker added. “With a victory in April, Lori will become the first Black woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor and will supplant me as the highest-ranking openly LGBTQ mayor in U.S. history. I am ready and excited for Lori to take on that title.”
The Victory Fund also noted that two of its six endorsed candidates in aldermanic races won outright on Tuesday night, with openly gay Ald. Tom Tunney winning re-election in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, home to the traditional “gayborhood” of Boystown, and challenger Maria Hadden ousting a 28-year incumbent in the Rogers Park neighborhood to become the first black queer person elected to the Council.
Three other Victory Fund-endorsed candidates — Ald. Deb Mell of Albany Park, Ald. James Cappleman of Uptown, and Ald. Raymond Lopez of Brighton Park — are headed to runoffs on April 2 after failing to garner 50% of the vote. The sixth Victory Fund-endorsed candidate, Colin Bird-Martinez, was eliminated after finishing third in a race for the city’s 31st Ward, which includes Northwest Chicago’s Hermosa and Belmont-Craigin neighborhoods.
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