Lori Lightfoot Elected Chicago Mayor in Historic Race

Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot celebrates at the Hilton Chicago on Tuesday night after defeating Toni Preckwinkle in race. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

CHICAGO (CN) — Lori Lightfoot won Chicago’s runoff election in a landslide Tuesday, and will become the city’s first black woman mayor, and the first openly gay one.

In a record low turnout of just 26%, Lightfoot cruised to victory over Toni Preckwinkle, winning 74% of the vote to Preckwinkle’s 26%.

She will replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who surprised the city last year by deciding not to run for a third term.

Chicago elections are often divided along racial lines — but not this time.

Lightfoot won majorities of the white, black, and Latino votes, with Preckwinkle, who is also African-American, dominating only in and around her home neighborhood of Hyde Park, where she served as alderman for 19 years. 

Lightfoot portrayed herself as an outsider who can “bring in the light” to Chicago’s notoriously corrupt political system. She formerly worked as a prosecutor, as president of the Chicago Police Board, and as chairwoman of the Police Accountability Task Force formed after the controversy over the police murder of Laquan McDonald.

Preckwinkle is about as establishment as a candidate can get. With nearly 30 years experience in Chicago politics, she is president of the Cook County board president and chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

The two women will work across the hall from one another on opposite sides of the fifth floor of City Hall. Time will tell if they can move past the attacks made on both sides to work together.

Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle presented voters with progressive platforms.

Both agreed on the need to raise revenue by adopting a statewide progressive income tax while standing by pension promises to public employees. They both support Chicago’s Welcoming Ordinance that protects undocumented immigrants from detention by federal immigration authorities without a court order, and both support public schools to the point of calling for a freeze on new charter schools.

However, the candidates were starkly divided on the issue of whether to build a $95 million police training academy in Garfield Park, a downtrodden and crime-ridden majority-black neighborhood.

Preckwinkle said the money could be better spent elsewhere, but Lightfoot doubled down, saying she envisions an even larger facility, citing New York’s recent $750 million investment in a training academy.  

Preckwinkle might have fared better against another establishment candidate, such as Bill Daley, who was projected to beat Lightfoot in February to make it to the runoff election.

But the drama surrounding the corruption allegations against powerful Alderman Edward Burke dragged Preckwinkle down when prosecutors accused Burke of attempting to extort a campaign contribution on her behalf.

Burke’s indictment created an opening that Lightfoot was perfectly positioned to take advantage of, as the only leading anti-establishment candidate.

The mayor-elect will face major challenges. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decades of poor fiscal management left the city with serious budget shortfalls. Mayor Emanuel helped set the city back on track by raising taxes and promoting business, but his solutions also forced people out of the city, hurt minority neighborhoods which disproportionately suffered when he closed 50 schools, and earned him the nickname “Mayor 1%.”

The new mayor will play a crucial role in implementing new police reforms mandated by the Chicago Police Department’s settlement with the state 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 the most segregated major city in America, and many poor residents feel that they’ve been abandoned by City Hall. It’s a common saying that one can tell the predominant race of a neighborhood by the state of the roads.

Lightfoot’s victory will undoubtedly bring change to the mayor’s office, and her ability to unite the city’s electorate gives her a mandate to tackle her ambitious agenda.

She has 48 days to put together an administration before taking office.

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