Candidates draw blood in Chicago as they make history
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.