CHICAGO (CN) – Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, both progressive black women, won the most votes in Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral election and will head to a runoff election in April.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Lightfoot won 17.5 percent of the vote, and Preckwinkle came in second with 15.9 percent of the vote, edging out Bill Daley – son and brother to two former Chicago mayors – who came up short with 14.7 percent of the vote despite outspending any other candidate.
Lightfoot, one of the least known candidates going into the race, surprised many by her strong showing on Tuesday. An attorney and former federal prosecutor who is openly gay, Lightfoot billed herself as the only truly independent candidate in the race without ties to the city’s corrupt political machine, especially the powerful Alderman Edward Burke who was recently accused by federal prosecutors of attempted extortion. She won the Chicago Sun-Times’ endorsement ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Lightfoot served as president of the Chicago Police Board from 2015-2018, and was tapped by outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to chair a special Police Accountability Task Force formed in the wake of the controversy over the murder of black teen Laquan McDonald by police officer Jason Van Dyke.
Preckwinkle, a politician with 30 years of experience, currently serves as Cook County board president and chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. She backs a progressive agenda, and has a lot of establishment support, but her candidacy was dragged down in the polls due to the Burke scandal.
Voters faced a long list of 14 candidates on Tuesday with many voters expressing confusion about their choices. Voter confusion is likely responsible for the low turnout – 34 percent – which only narrowly avoided setting a record low for the city.
In April’s runoff election, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle will need to let voters know what they stand for, and what distinguishes them.
In a speech last night, Preckwinkle took the first shot, highlighting Lightfoot’s lack of experience in elected office.
“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,” Preckwinkle said.
But Lightfoot told her supporters, “This, my friends, is what change looks like.”
“People said that I had some good ideas, but I couldn’t win. And it’s true that it’s not every day that a little black girl in a low-income family from a segregated steel town makes the runoff to be the next mayor of the third-largest city in the country,” Lightfoot continued.
Other candidates conceded last night, including community activist Amara Enyia, who won Chance the Rapper and Kanye West’s endorsements; former police chief Garry McCarthy, who was fired by Emanuel amid protests of the McDonald shooting; and wealthy businessman Willie Wilson, who has handed voters hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash ostensibly to help pay their property taxes.
Last summer, no one imagined the mayoral contest would pan out this way – and many of the candidates never thought they’d be running.
But in September, Emanuel shocked the city by announcing he would not seek re-election, despite having already raised millions of dollars for his campaign.
Emanuel made the announcement one day before the beginning of Van Dyke’s trial for the 2014 shooting of McDonald, an incident that sparked major protests in his second term and highlighted public mistrust of the Chicago Police Department. Many people accused Emanuel of covering up the racially charged killing, which would likely have derailed his re-election campaign had the video of the shooting come out before the 2015 election.
Some have suggested that Emanuel decided not to run because he was afraid he would lose if Van Dyke was acquitted. However, Emanuel has denied those insinuations and told the Chicago Tribune that he had been thinking about moving on to “the next chapter” for months.
With Van Dyke found guilty of murder in October and Emanuel’s 2015 rival Jesus “Chuy” Garcia elected to Congress, Emanuel would have cruised to a re-election victory.
Instead, the mayor’s race had no dominant candidate for the first time in over 30 years.
Clearly, however, voters delivered a rebuke to Emanuel’s tenure on Tuesday, especially his support of business interests that earned him the nickname “Mayor 1%.”
Whether voters choose Lightfoot or Preckwinkle, the new mayor will face major challenges. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decades of poor fiscal management left the city with serious budget shortfalls. Emanuel has helped set the city back on track by raising taxes and promoting business interests, but his solutions have also forced people out of the city, and hurt minority neighborhoods which disproportionately suffered when he closed 50 schools.
The new mayor will play a crucial role in implementing new police reforms mandated by the Chicago Police Department’s settlement with the state of Illinois over its disproportionate use of excessive force against black and Latino residents, while at the same time wrestling with the city’s high murder rate that has earned it the nickname “Chi-Raq.”
Chicago is also the most segregated major city in America, and many poor residents feel that they’ve been abandoned by City Hall. It’s a common joke that one can tell the predominant race of a neighborhood by the state of the roads.
The new mayor will inherit these age-old racial divisions, which Emanuel’s school closures and McDonald’s killing only further entrenched.
Whatever happens, Chicago will make history in April by electing its first black woman as mayor.