Former federal prosecutor and political neophyte Lori Lightfoot made Chicago history Tuesday night when she won a runoff nonpartisan election to become Chicago's first black woman, and first openly-gay candidate, ever elected mayor. Winning with a staggering 74% of the vote after parlaying her leadership of a task force on police killings, Lightfoot's outsider status gave her a huge edge over her opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and a former boss of the city's Democratic Party, who was also a black woman.
After Mayor Rahm Emmanuel declared he would not seek reelection in September as the city's precarious finances and the appearance of a coverup of police misconduct tainted his image, 14 candidates vied for the position during a non-partisan election, which led to Tuesday's runoff after none of the candidates managed to secure a majority in the first round. Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot beat out Bill Daley, the brother of Emmanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley, and a member of a Chicago political dynasty, a sign that voters were fed up with the city's political class and its reputation for self-dealing.
Lightfoot triumphed despite being outraised by Preckwinkle, who touted her status as a political "boss" during her campaign, with Lightfoot starting the runoff with just $731,000 on hand, compared with Preckwinkle's $3.9 million. In addition to securing the support of the city's powerful unions, Preckwinkle also won the endorsement of Chance the Rapper, one of the city's most prominent figures in the entertainment industry, according to Politico.
But in addition to her "insider" status, Preckwinkle also suffered from her association with longtime city Alderman Ed Burke, who was recently arrested on corruption charges.
When she is sworn in next month, Lightfoot will become Chicago’s second female mayor after Jane Byrne, who served one term from 1979 to 1983, and its third black mayor after Harold Washington, who was elected to succeed Byrne in 1983, and Eugene Sawyer, who became acting mayor when Washington died in 1987.
"She had the right message at the right time," said Jason McGrath, a pollster and senior adviser to Lightfoot’s campaign. "We knew for months we had something special and just needed the right circumstance to evolve for us to get to a point where people were ready to listen to the message. At the end of the day, from every neighborhood from Beverly Park to Uptown, people wanted something different."
Lightfoot, age 56, was an assistant US attorney before entering private practice. Despite her lack of political experience, she was endorsed by the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune newspapers, as well as Congressmen Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Robin Kelly, as her "reformer" campaign picked up traction. She ran on a promise to drive out corruption from city hall, and to invest more resources in the western and southern ends of the city, NBC News reported.
Unsurprisingly in a city where the Republican Party has essentially ceased to exist, all 14 of the candidates who ran alongside Lightfoot in the runoff were associated with the Democratic Party to varying degrees.
During her victory speech, Lightfoot extended an olive branch to her defeated rival.
"In this election Toni and I were competitors, but our differences are nothing compared to what we can achieve together," Lightfoot said. "Now that it’s over, I know we will work together for the city that we both love."
"Today, you did more than make history," Lightfoot said. "You created a movement for change."
She also spoke of a "city reborn" and said her victory showed a city where "it doesn’t matter what color you are, where it sure doesn’t matter how tall you are, and where it doesn’t matter who you love."
Watch her victory speech: