CHICAGO (AP) – Lori Lightfoot made history as the first Black woman and the first openly gay person to serve as mayor of Chicago, cruising to victory four years ago as an outsider who promised to rid City Hall of corruption and provide a safer and fairer city.
But her bid for a second term is at stake amid concerns about persistently high crime in the nation’s third-largest city and accusations that she is overly hostile and sometimes flat-out – criticism she has dismissed as a sexist and racial smear against her together. a tough leader who is passionate about Chicago.
Ahead of a crowded election on February 28, Lightfoot was forced on the defensive in a heated race that turned into a personality contest and policy debate.
“We’ve begun to change Chicago for the better,” Lightfoot said during a recent debate. “I want to finish the job we’ve started.”
With nine candidates in the race, it is unlikely that anyone will break the 50% threshold needed to win the official non-partisan election outright. That means the winner will likely be decided in the April 4th runoff between the top two finishers.
If she loses, Lightfoot would become the first Chicago mayor in decades to run for re-election and fail. And unlike its predecessors, Lightfoot does not have a fundraising advantage over its best competitors.
The election will be an early test this year of how crime affects mayoral races in the Democratic strongholds of major cities. Other major cities electing mayors this year, including Philadelphia, are also grappling with how to balance progressive ideals with residents’ everyday concerns about keeping their families safe.
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who had never run for political office before, emerged from a crowded field in 2019 to defeat much better known candidates with the support of voters tired of political corruption and cover-up.
She says her administration has made concrete progress on critical issues, from putting money into neighborhoods that have seen years of disinvestment to taking illegal guns off the streets. But she notes that the past four years have not been easy, with a global pandemic and protests over police violence that she said have represented “some of the toughest times we’ve ever had” in Chicago.
Lightfoot’s handling of crises has sometimes drawn praise, for example when she ordered lockdowns early in the coronavirus pandemic and an image of the stern-faced mayor became a popular meme. But at other times, Lightfoot’s actions were questioned.
After the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police encouraged protests and civil unrest, including the breaking of shop windows and fires, Lightfoot ordered the city to raise construction bridges over the Chicago River in an attempt to prevent protesters from entering the center of town. Some in the city saw it as elitist, a way to protect highly segregated parts of the city at the expense of neighborhoods with struggling business districts that also suffered serious damage.
But Lightfoot took the most heat for increased crime, with homicides hitting a 25-year high in 2021 with about 800. Lightfoot says she has a plan that’s working, noting that murders decreased last year. But they are still higher than when she took office, and concerns have grown about other violent crime in the city, including carjackings.
“We’ve made progress year after year,” Lightfoot said. “But I recognize that people in the city don’t feel safe.”
Lightfoot’s most formidable opponent may be a two-term U.S. Representative. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former member of the Chicago City Council, state Senate and county board who lost a runoff eight years ago against then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Lightfoot ran television ads accusing Garcia of corruption, noting that his campaign House money from Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX accused of massive financial fraud. Garcia said he did not know Bankman-Fried, and his campaign returned direct contributions.
Garcia touts his record of working with communities across the city and playing well with others in a way he says Lightfoot doesn’t.
“She is combative, unnecessarily. She is outstanding,” Garcia said.
Elected as a reformist outsider who would rid the city of pay-to-play politics, Lightfoot was criticized when a campaign staff member sent an email to public school teachers asking students to volunteer for the campaign in exchange for class credit. Lightfoot apologized, saying it was a mistake. Inspectors general are reviewing potential policy violations.
Some of Lightfoot’s biggest battles were with the Chicago Teachers Union, which supported her first run for mayor. The two sides butted heads during an 11-day teachers’ strike in 2019 and were teasing a return to in-school teaching. during the pandemic.
This year, the teachers union endorsed Lightfoot rival Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and former Chicago teacher and union organizer. Johnson, who criticized Lightfoot for running on progressive campaign promises and then breaking them, wants to shift money away from the police department and toward better mental health care and other services for long-neglected neighborhoods like the where he lives on the West side of the city. Side.
Lightfoot also clashed with Chicago’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police. At a City Council meeting, Lightfoot was caught on a microphone referring to a union leader as “this FOP clown.”
The police union endorsed mayoral candidate Paul Vallas, a former city budget director and school leader who served as an adviser to the police union during negotiations with City Hall. He repeatedly called for more police officers, saying, “Crime is out of control.”
Lightfoot criticized Vallas as a disguised Republican, noting that he received campaign contributions from GOP donors. Their campaign blasted him for being too cozy with the police union, calling its leader a “notorious bigot” and supporting former President Donald Trump.
Lightfoot has increased her support in some areas of the city. Former Rep. Bobby Rush, who was a vocal critic during her first campaign in a notable booster this year, joined Reps. Danny Davis and Robin Kelly — whose districts are predominantly Black neighborhoods — in praising her commitment. to invest in the areas. Lightfoot kept that promise, Rush said, even “under the most difficult circumstances.”
The mayor touts a record of accomplishments that include pushing for a $15 minimum wage that labor unions have sought for years and approving a long-awaited casino that is expected to bring millions in revenue and thousands of jobs . She has also budgeted over $3 million to protect access to abortion, including for people who travel to Chicago from states where the procedure is illegal.
In addition to Garcia, Vallas and Johnson, the other candidates in the running are wealthy businessman Willie Wilson, Chicago City Council members Sophia King and Roderick Sawyer, activist Ja’Mal Green and state President Kambium “Kam” Buckner.
This story was corrected by deleting the reference to Atlanta as one of the major cities that elected a mayor in 2023.