Chicago voters made history Tuesday evening, electing two African American women as their top choices for mayor.
Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were the top two candidates voters chose at the polls. In Chicago elections, a candidate must take 50 percent plus one of the vote. If no candidate receives that amount, the top two face each other in a runoff. Lightfoot garnered 17.5 percent of the vote, while Preckwinkle took in 16. They were followed by Bill Daley, who received 14.7 percent and Willie Wilson, who nabbed 10.7 percent of the vote. The other ten candidates received single digits.
“This, my friends, is what change looks like,” said Lightfoot to supporters at her campaign event. “I want to thank those who had the courage—and let me understand that, courage—to stand with our campaign against the machine.”
“We may not be at the finish line. But, we should acknowledge that history is being made,” Preckwinkle told her supporters. “We’re a movement supported by hard-working families from every community in this city.”
Preckwinkle also took a shot at her opponent in her speech. “While my opponent was taking multiple appointments in both the Daley and Emanuel administrations, I fought the power elites who’ve been trying to hold the city back for decades,” she said.
While voter turnout was extremely low, with only 34 percent of eligible Chicagoans heading to the polls, a Lightfoot/Preckwinkle runoff signals a dramatic shift in Chicago politics, particularly with the rejection of Bill Daley, who managed to raise more money than any of his opponents, partially due to the support of Illinois’ richest man—billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin. Daley thanked Griffin for his support at his campaign event, while Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson specifically called Griffin out in his speech before Preckwinkle took the stage, saying that it’s time for the rich to pay their fair share in taxes.
Showing just how incredibly out of touch the Daley camp was with a majority of Chicagoans, his campaign chair told the New York Times Tuesday that it was hard for Daley because he was white. “The times have changed,” he said. “In the last couple of elections we’ve seen, younger folks, women, people of color, have taken something of a spotlight. It’s more difficult for an older white gentleman to relate to some of the changes that people think that they want.”
A new Daley administration wasn’t the only thing voters rejected on Tuesday. The pending April runoff between Preckwinkle and Lightfoot is also a rejection of eight years of neoliberal austerity politics under outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Activist groups and unions that sparred with Emanuel over the years celebrated Tuesday’s results.
“The voters of Chicago last night reiterated their tremendous desire for change in this city,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey. “We saw across the board that we can put the fight for an elected school board front and center and win. We can call for an end to charter expansion and school closings and win. We can fight for working class families and equal access to health care and win. We can say that Black Lives Matter and call for police accountability and win. We can be Black, brown, female and LGBTQIA+ and win. These are no longer just dreams or grassroots conversations, but realities of a new day in Chicago and the hallmark of our fight going forward.”
United Working Families, an organization that ran a slate of progressive candidates for alderman, saw seven out of eight candidates they supported either win or head into a runoff; they said Tuesday night’s results show support for a progressive movement.
“Tonight’s results were years in the making, and will remake Chicago for years to come,” said executive director Emma Tai. “They were seeded by the risks we took in 2015, when UWF forced the most powerful mayor in the country into a runoff and challenged entrenched incumbents across the city.”
The group also had a message for candidates considering a 2020 presidential run.
“2020 Presidential candidates, take note: we are remaking the political landscape of our city and country. The most powerful Democratic fundraiser in the country, Rahm Emanuel, will not be mayor again. The Cook County gang database has been shut down. Candidates are rejecting campaign contributions from luxury real-estate developers and calling for free child care and college for all. We are fighting for a city and a country for the many—not the wealthiest few. And we are winning.”
Incumbent aldermen took big hits, and the shape of the City Council could be remarkably different after the dust settles from the April runoff. Proco “Joe” Moreno was defeated by challenger Daniel La Spata. Joe Moore was defeated by challenger Maria Hadden. Deb Mell, meanwhile, will head into a runoff with Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, one of four candidates that either won outright or will advance to a runoff that were supported by the Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Jeanette Taylor, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, and Carlos Ramirez Rosa also received the DSA’s support.
“We were very deliberate in our endorsement process, which started early last year,” said Lucie Macías, co-chair of Chicago DSA. “The four candidates we endorsed as a chapter best represent our democratic socialist vision to build a Chicago for all, not just the wealthy few.”