Former prosecutor Lori Lightfoot rode a wave of disgust at corruption in city hall to coast to victory in Chicago’s mayoral race. She becomes the first black female mayor in the city’s history.
Lightfoot easily bested Cook County Board Commissioner Toni Preckwinkle with nearly 75 percent of the vote. Preckwinkle, a former teacher backed by the unions and the Chicago political establishment, got caught up in the bribery scandal that ensnared long-time Alderman Ed Burke and couldn’t get rid of the stench.
For her part, all Lightfoot had to do was prove to voters she was not part of the corrupt political machine that has held sway in the city for 100 years. She bucked city hall two years ago when, as a member of the police board, she drove the investigation into the Laquan McDonald shooting. That gave her profile in the city a boost and she eventually used the incident as a springboard to power.
As all reformers who came before her, Lightfoot promised change.
Lightfoot promised to rid City Hall of corruption and help low-income and working-class people she said had been “left behind and ignored” by Chicago’s political ruling class. It was a message that resonated with voters weary of political scandal and insider deals, and who said the city’s leaders for too long have invested in downtown at the expense of neighborhoods.
“Together we can and will make Chicago a place where your zip code doesn’t determine your destiny,” Lightfoot told a cheering crowd at her victory party. “We can and we will break this city’s endless cycle of corruption and never again — never ever — allow politicians to profit from elected positions.”
She said people are seeing “a city reborn” — a place where race and “who you love” don’t matter.
Winning the mayoral race in Chicago is not exactly like being elected captain of the Titanic, but it’s close. Lightfoot will face a pension bomb waiting to detonate, out of control gang violence, massive mistrust of police by the black community, crumbling schools, a disappearing tax base, and neighborhoods that resemble war zones.
But the bigger story in the city might be the defeat of several incumbents by self-identified socialists and progressives, who successfully preached the gospel of change in order to defeat several long-time city hall incumbents.
A total of five democratic socialists, and possibly a sixth, won races for alderman either in February or in Tuesday’s runoff elections.
That sixth candidate, Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez is trailing longtime Ald. Deb Mell by only a few dozen votes. Mell, whose family has represented the 33rd Ward for more than 40 years, is hoping that mail ballots will help her maintain her seat.
Mell wasn’t the only big name to go down to defeat. Legendary power broker Patrick O’Connor also saw time pass him by:
On Tuesday, Andre Vasquez beat Ald. Patrick O’Connor, who was Mayor Emanuel’s floor leader. O’Connor also was named chairman of the powerful Finance Committee after Ald. Ed Burke was indicted on federal corruption charges. That race, and Burke’s fall from power, are all signals of a decline in the old-guard Democratic Machine on the City Council.
In the 20th Ward, Jeanette Tayor, who was also endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, easily won her runoff. She succeeds Ald. Willie Cochran, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of wire fraud for misusing his campaign funds for gambling and other personal expenses, including tuition for his daughter.
The old Cook County political machine, which at one time controlled 15 congressmen, has been dying a slow death for decades. But it could still turn out the vote for their candidates for alderman. Now, it appears that its power there is waning also.
Every decade or so, Chicago voters become so disgusted with corruption that they elect “reformers” to clean things up. Funny how it never happens. In Chicago, it’s not so much the machine that’s corrupt as it is the way that day-to-day business is done in the city. The nexus of politics, business, and crime form a solid wall of sleaze that has added the phrase “The Chicago Way” to the lexicon to describe official wrongdoing.
It’s not likely that will change with the election of Lori Lightfoot.