The next Chicago mayor will either be a self-described political outsider who has never run for office or a longtime city alderman and chair of the county’s Democratic Party. Either way, for the first time, the city’s top political official will be an African-American woman.
Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took the top spots in Tuesday night’s tight race. They beat out 12 other candidates, many of whom entered the race after current Mayor Rahm Emanuel surprised the city by announcing in September that he wouldn’t run for a third term. Now Lightfoot, who earned 17.5 percent with 90,000 votes, and Preckwinkle, at 16 percent with 82,000 votes, will go head-to-head in a runoff election April 2.
They edged out William Daley, whose father and brother each served as mayor for over 20 years. Daley, who spent millions more than the other candidates, enjoyed wide name recognition but wasn’t able to rise to the top of the field. He took third place with about 76,000 votes, or just shy of 15 percent of the total.
The first African-American woman to serve as mayor of Chicago will take the reins of a city that has long struggled with allegations of civil rights violations. Both candidates have emphasized the need to reform the Chicago Police Department, but Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, made it a touchstone of her campaign.
Lightfoot served as chair of the police accountability task force, established by Emanuel to address charges of police racism. She has also been president of the Chicago Police Board, an independent civilian body that decides police disciplinary cases.
“There’s been nobody in the city that’s been a more vocal, persistent, demanding advocate for police reform and accountability than I have,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune.
Preckwinkle, a former history teacher who has spent decades in Chicago politics, has also focused on the importance of offering a strong public school education. Endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, Preckwinkle backs a moratorium on school closings and charter school expansions. Preckwinkle has been Cook County Board president since 2010; before that, she was alderman of the city’s 4th ward for 19 years.
“We may not yet be at the finish line, but we should acknowledge that history is being made,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday night, according to the Tribune. “It’s clear we’re at a defining moment in our city’s history, but the challenges that our city faces are not simply ideological. It’s not enough to say Chicago stands at a crossroads. We need to fight to change its course.”
On Tuesday night, the two candidates began to highlight the differences between them. “There was little talk of common ground,” the Tribune reported.
Preckwinkle said that while her 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.” Lightfoot said she was the only reform candidate left in the race out of “a pack of establishment figures,” the Tribune reported.
Lightfoot has also highlighted her sexual orientation, touting the possibility of becoming the first openly gay mayor of Chicago. “I’m running for mayor to build a Chicago City government that represents and defends every person, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation,” she said.