Can­di­dates draw blood in Chicago as they make his­tory

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Aamer Mad­hani

CHICAGO – The elec­tion Tues­day that will lead to the na­tion’s third-largest city elect­ing a black woman as mayor for the first time in its 182-year his­tory has been shaped by name-calling, cam­paign sur­ro­gates rais­ing ques­tions about racial au­then­tic­ity and a bar­rage of neg­a­tive cam­paign ads.

For­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor Lori Light­foot and Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle have spent the fi­nal days of the cam­paign criss­cross­ing Chicago in hopes of turn­ing out sup­port be­fore Tues­day’s elec­tion. The two ad­vanced to the runoff

race af­ter be­com­ing the top fin­ish­ers in Fe­bru­ary’s first round of vot­ing in which 14 can­di­dates com­peted.

The mile­stone – Chicago will be­come the largest U.S. city to be led by a black fe­male mayor – has been over­shad­owed by the two can­di­dates trad­ing vi­cious barbs through­out the cam­paign.

Con­cerned about the di­vi­sive­ness of the race, civil rights ac­tivists Jesse Jack­son and Al Sharp­ton nudged Light­foot and Preck­win­kle on Satur­day to sign a pledge to hold a “unity” news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day, the day af­ter the vote.

“The race was com­pet­i­tive and of­ten di­vi­sive,” Jack­son said. “The race ends Tues­day. The heal­ing must be­gin Wed­nes­day morn­ing.”

African Amer­i­can women are blaz­ing trails in U.S. pol­i­tics.

Reps. Ayanna Press­ley of Mas­sachusetts and Ja­hana Hayes of Con­necti­cut, both Democrats, be­came the first black women elected to Congress in those two states in Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions.

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris of Cal­i­for­nia is vy­ing to win the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion and be­come the first black woman elected to the White House. An­other ris­ing star in the Demo­cratic Party, for­mer Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, is con­sid­er­ing a pres­i­den­tial run. Abrams was nar­rowly de­feated in Novem­ber in her bid to be­come Georgia’s gov­er­nor.

In Chicago, the bat­tle be­tween Light­foot and Preck­win­kle has been down­right nasty. The lat­est polling in­di­cated Light­foot was on her way to win­ning by a wide mar­gin. Light­foot leads Preck­win­kle 53 per­cent to 17 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of a WTTW/Crain’s Temkin/Har­ris poll re­leased last week.

In the lead-up to the first round of vot­ing, Light­foot com­pared Preck­win­kle and three other can­di­dates with per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal ties to a pow­er­ful City Coun­cil mem­ber who was charged in Jan­uary with at­tempted ex­tor­tion to ver­min for try­ing to dis­tance them­selves from the tar­nished politi­cian.

“It’s like cock­roaches – there’s a light that’s shined on them,” Light­foot said at an event where she signed an ethics pledge. “They scram­ble.”

Light­foot, who would be the city’s first openly LGBTQ mayor, ques­tioned whether Preck­win­kle “was blow­ing some kind of dog whis­tle” to con­ser­va­tive vot­ers af­ter the county board pres­i­dent brought up her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion at a de­bate. Should Light­foot win, Chicago would be­come the largest city to be led by an LGBTQ per­son.

Light­foot ex­pressed out­rage af­ter one of Preck­win­kle’s cam­paign ad­vis­ers posted a photo of Nazis at the Nurem­berg tri­als on so­cial me­dia to ar­gue against sup­port­ing Light­foot. Preck­win­kle fired the aide and apol­o­gized to Light­foot.

One of Preck­win­kle’s sur­ro­gates, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., sug­gested that Chicagoans should be sus­pi­cious of Light­foot, who served on two po­lice over­sight boards. He said vot­ers would have blood on their hands if they voted for her.

The is­sue of po­lice bru­tal­ity has been cen­tral to the cam­paign. The out­go­ing mayor, Rahm Emanuel, saw his stand­ing plum­met in the city’s African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity af­ter the shoot­ing death in 2014 of Laquan McDon­ald, a black teen who was shot 16 times by a white po­lice of­fi­cer. Emanuel de­clined to seek a third term.

The city, which fi­nal­ized a plan known as a con­sent de­cree that dic­tates dozens of court-mon­i­tored changes in the po­lice de­part­ment, has spent more than $700 mil­lion on set­tle­ment and le­gal fees since 2010 to re­solve al­le­ga­tions of po­lice mis­con­duct.

Rush, a for­mer leader of the Black Pan­ther Party who ini­tially backed for­mer U.S. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Bill Da­ley for mayor, said in a speech at a cam­paign rally for Preck­win­kle that Light­foot has had a part in the city’s dif­fi­cult his­tory of po­lice re­la­tions in black and brown com­mu­ni­ties.

Rush did not men­tion that Light­foot was an early ad­vo­cate of the con­sent de­cree and headed a po­lice task force that con­cluded the de­part­ment was plagued by racism and needed sweep­ing changes to win trust in mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.

“This elec­tion is re­ally about what type of po­lice force we’re go­ing to have in the city of Chicago, and ev­ery­one who votes for Lori, the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the po­lice is on your hands,” Rush said. “If you’re against po­lice bru­tal­ity and mur­der, you ought to be for Toni Preck­win­kle. She’s the only one who is go­ing to have the po­lice un­der her con­trol.”

Light­foot blasted Preck­win­kle for Rush’s “rhetoric of di­vi­sion”; Preck­win­kle de­clined to dis­avow the com­ments.

In the fi­nal days of the cam­paign, Preck­win­kle has homed in on Light­foot’s time as a cor­po­rate lawyer, not­ing that her work in the pri­vate sec­tor in­cluded de­fend­ing com­pa­nies fac­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of age and race dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Dur­ing a de­bate Wed­nes­day hosted by Chicago’s CBS af­fil­i­ate, Preck­win­kle asked Light­foot what she most re­gret­ted about her pro­fes­sional ca­reer. Light­foot talked about hav­ing to ex­plain to her el­e­men­tary-school-age daugh­ter about why adults lie and act like bul­lies.

Preck­win­kle punched back. “This is a per­son who is com­plain­ing now about the tenor of the cam­paign when in the first de­bate, (she) called me a liar,” she said.

Light­foot said Sun­day that she was com­mit­ted – win or lose – to bury­ing the hatchet with Preck­win­kle af­ter Elec­tion Day.

What does she want to hear on Wed­nes­day morn­ing?

“Con­grat­u­la­tions, mayor,” Light­foot said. “If I lose, I’m go­ing to con­grat­u­late her and con­tinue to fight for the things that are im­por­tant.”

“The race ends Tues­day. The heal­ing must be­gin Wed­nes­day morn­ing.” Jesse Jack­son


Front-run­ner Lori Light­foot would be­come the first black woman to be mayor of Chicago.


Chicago may­oral can­di­date Toni Preck­win­kle, greet­ing sup­port­ers on Feb. 26, has traded vi­cious barbs with her op­po­nent.

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