Lori Lighfoot, 56, was elected mayor of Chicago in a landslide victory Tuesday — beating Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle 74 percent to 26 percent. Lightfoot’s election marks a litany of mayoral firsts: she’s the first former federal prosecutor, the first African American female and the first openly gay mayor in Chicago’s history.
In her victory speech at the Hilton Chicago in the Loop, Lightfoot echoed a familiar campaign theme, vowing to make the city’s streets safer, its schools better and to give “the neighborhoods, all of our neighborhoods, the same time and attention that we give the downtown.”
Lightfoot’s crowded election night headquarters reflected the multiracial coalition that her campaign patched together to buoy her to victory — a coalition that included a strong LGBTQ presence and that seemed to channel the organization that propelled the city’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington, to victory in 1983.
During her speech, Lightfoot said that she stands “on the shoulders” of “strong black women,” LGBTQ “trailblazers” and “political giants like the late, great Harold Washington.”
Like Washington, Lightfoot ran heavily on reform. She broke out of a crowded field of 14 candidates back in February to advance to the April 2 runoff — in no small part due to the fact that she was barely scathed by the scandals surrounding Ald. Ed Burke, the powerful former finance committee chairman who was hit with federal corruption charges earlier this year.
Preckwinkle, the powerful head of the Cook County Democratic Party, reportedly hired Burke’s son and was reportedly the beneficiary of an extortion attempt by the alderman.
In a race framed by corruption headlines, and with two candidates both claiming the mantle of most progressive, Preckwinkle’s two decades as an alderman and two terms as county board president were considered liabilities that couldn’t offset any public service-related achievements she tried making focal points in her campaign.
During the April 2 election party, many of Lightfoot’s West Side supporters reveled in the historic nature of the moment.
“Fifteen or 20 years ago, this would not be possible,” said Ald. Michael Scott (24th). “Hopefully, this means that we are going to come together and do what’s right.”
Ald. Scott said that he supported Lightfoot because “she’s going to be very intentional about bringing economic investment and bringing down crime, because without low crime there’s not going to be investment.”
Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and who was among the first African American pastors to endorse Lightfoot, said that her victory indicated that the city was ready for change.
Acree described Preckwinkle as an “enabler for Joe Berrios,” the controversial former Cook County assessor.
“The voters said no to pay-to-play politics,” Acree said. “They said no to corruption. They said no to someone joined at the hip with Burke. They said no to the machine and machine politics. And they said yes to quality, fairness and to ending the tale of two cities.”
Steve Childs, of West Humboldt Park-based House of Hope Youth Foundation, said that Preckwinkle “has been in office for more than 20 years and nothing has changed. We don’t agree with all of Lori’s positions, but we’re willing to give her a chance.”