News and Commentary

Chicago Poised To Elect Its First African-American Female Mayor, Send Indicted Alderman Back To Office

Chicago will elect its first African-American female mayor, after a strange, 14-candidate race came to an end Tuesday in the city primary.

Both candidates, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle and former Police Oversight Board chairwoman Lori Lightfoot, are considered “outside” candidates, with few attachments to Chicago’s fabled Democratic machine, but with deep ties to the city’s far left, progressive elements.

The fourteen-way race was in a dead heat until nearly the end, with polls predicting varied outcomes, none of which played out Tuesday night. Lightfoot, a relative unknown and newcomer to Chicago elections — though not to Chicago politics — was the city’s top vote-getter, commanding around 17% of the vote. Preckwinkle, a more well-known commodity often maligned for instituting the city’s disastrous (and now repealed) “sugary drinks tax,” came in second with 16%, according to the Chicago Tribune’s official election results.

Most surprising, though, was the result for former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Bill Daley, whose last name is on nearly every building and public park in the city. Bill Daley is a relative of long-serving mayors Richard J. and Richard M. Daley, and was expected to do well in the mayoral race.

After last night’s votes were counted, Daley didn’t even pick up traditional Democratic (and Daley) strongholds, leaving him in third, with only 15% of the vote. Those went to Jerry Joyce, who barely finished with 7%.

Both Preckwinkle and Lightfood are progressives, even by Chicago standards, and ran far to the left of current mayor Rahm Emanuel. Both had platforms that embraced an elected school board — something most mayors hesitate to do, lest the city’s education system fall fully into union control — civilian oversight of the police department, and a tax scheme designed to correct “wealth inequality” within the city.

But they both also represent a landmark achievement in diversity for the city; come April 2, no matter who wins the final mayoral election, Chicago will have its first African-American female mayor. Only one woman, Jane Byrne, has served in the office previously.

The vote also crossed racial lines, in one of America’s most segregated cities. Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot won big on the city’s wealthier north side, particularly among leftists who live along the lakefront in some of the city’s established middle class and upper-middle class neighborhoods.

There were no Republican contenders in the (technically) non-partisan race. Only about 10% of Chicago’s population considers itself Republican, and even those estimates are probably high.

Among Tuesday night’s victories, though, one, in particular, stood out: that of powerful 14th ward alderman Ed Burke, who commanded more than 50% of the vote despite being under active indictment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. In January, Burke was indicted on a federal extortion charge, and federal agents have warned that more charges may be coming.

The south side alderman’s constituents gave him four more years to add to his nearly half-century rule, even though he is facing a potential prison sentence of 20 years or more. When asked by a Sun-Times reporter whether he’d be able to fulfill his entire term in office, Burke refused to answer.