OPINION: Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s Mayor-elect, skips the poli-tricks and brings new energy to a complicated city
Well, it turns out Chicago was actually ready for a capital-C Change. And, in a major way.
Lori Lightfoot was voted Chicago’s newest mayor in Tuesday’s runoff election between her and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Following the primary election, this runoff was always going to be historic: Chicago was about to get its first Black woman mayor. Lightfoot’s election also makes her the first openly-gay person to head up a city this large.
Black women now hold what are arguably the three most powerful political roles in the city: Lightfoot as mayor, Preckwinkle as board president and the (currently embattled) Kim Foxx as the Cook County state’s attorney.
Lightfoot’s election has another noteworthy distinction: it represents a city sick of the bullshit.
You see, Lightfoot didn’t just beat Preckwinkle – she trounced her. Lightfoot won by nearly 50 percentage points and took every one of Chicago’s 50 wards, many of which couldn’t be more disparate considering the city is still absurdly segregated. The election was never even close: I voted 10 minutes before the polls closed; Lightfoot was announced winner less than an hour later.
For many, Preckwinkle represented part of the Chicago “machine” of politics. Ask anyone around here, and they’ll tell you exactly what “The Chicago way” looks like: graft, back-alley deals, shady politics and institutionalized corruption. The kind of shenanigans that is probably watering the mouth of a federal agent somewhere as I type. In contrast, Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor and private-sector attorney who has never held public office.
She served as chair of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, a group created to form an oversight of Chicago’s police officers following the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke; the task force’s report was nakedly critical of the police department. Lightfoot has an Obama-esque purity to her, if nowhere near as inspiring (voter turnout was still ridiculously low).
Preckwinkle had a lot to answer for including her strangely cozy relationship with Alderman Edward Burke, who is the living, crusty white male embodiment of “The Chicago Way” and whose ass the Feds are currently digging in. She was also the architect of the failed and maligned “soda tax,” which pissed off a whole heap of folks who just wanted to enjoy their diabetes in peace.
Chicago is clearly tired of the brand of politics that existed under the Daley family and outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, who shocked everyone when he announced he wouldn’t run for a third mayoral term. It’s widely assumed that he likely would’ve won. For all the economic benefits he brought to the city, Emanuel had a significant number of enemies, including the unions that serve as Chicago’s blue-collar backbone.
Emanuel also caught a lot of shit for his perceived cover-up of the McDonald shooting – which many attribute to his decision not to seek re-election. It also makes the fact that he recently went on a media tour – telling every camera with a red light on how pissed off he is at Jussie Smollett and the state’s attorney office for dropping all charges against the Empire actor.
Lightfoot will be the city’s first Black mayor since Harold Washington, who held office from 1983 until his death in 1987. Washington is a beloved figure around these parts for using the office to mitigate Chicago’s historically racist policies and for his attempts to attack corruption and establishment politics. On top of persisting budget issues and rampant gun violence that have put Chicago in an international spotlight for years, Lightfoot has to also create her legacy in within Washington’s shadow.
Can she do it? Only time will tell, but here’s hoping she makes good on her historical firsts and usher in the changes Chicago so desperately needs.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.