Chicago made history Tuesday night in multiple ways by electing its first openly gay African-American woman as mayor and at least five socialists to City Council. Former President of the Chicago Police Board and prosecutor Lori Lightfoot handily beat Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, taking 73.7 percent of the vote.
“In this election Toni and I were competitors, but our differences are nothing compared to what we can achieve together,” Lightfoot told supporters at the Hilton Grand Ballroom in the Loop. “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 added. “You created a movement for change.”
In the first round in February, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were the two candidates with the most votes out of a crowded field of 14. Lightfoot took the top spot in that race with 17.5 percent of the vote, with Preckwinkle coming in second with about 16 percent.
During both the first and second rounds, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle sought to set themselves apart from outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, who after running the city for two terms decided in September he wouldn’t seek a third. Both candidates did their best to highlight their progressive credentials, taking many positions that were in stark contrast with Emanuel’s policies, which favored big business and privatization.
During his eight-year tenure, Emanuel closed half the city’s public mental health clinics and presided over the largest closure of public schools in history. Meanwhile, the City of Chicago paid out more than $700 million in police misconduct settlements while Emanuel was mayor, and spent an additional $231 million on outside attorneys to help litigate settlements and lawsuits against the city. Several high profile police shootings took place during Emanuel’s time as mayor, including Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd.
Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle used the opposition to Emanuel’s policies to galvanize voters. During several forums both participated in, they committed to a series of more progressive policies, including a moratorium on school closures, funding the reopening of the shuttered public mental health clinics, abolishing the city’s gang database, ending student based budgeting, free college tuition at City Colleges, and calling for delays on mega-tif projects.
— Aaron Cynic (@aaroncynic) January 17, 2019
Lightfoot tried to set herself apart from Preckwinkle by pointing out the Cook County Board President’s connections to powerful alderman Ed Burke, who’s facing federal corruption charges, along with her connections to machine politics.
“We were up against powerful interests, a powerful machine and a powerful mayor,” she told supporters. “Nobody gave us much of a chance.”
While Lightfoot has created an image of progressivism and reform, particularly regarding the Chicago Police department, Chicago activists that fought against Emanuel’s policies for years have questioned her commitment to that agenda. Lightfoot faced criticism for the role she played as President of the Chicago Police Board, which often overrode disciplinary recommendations for officers charged with misconduct or otherwise shielded them from accountability. Though Lightfoot initially said she was opposed to the new $95 million police academy to be built on the West Side, she later said “we absolutely need a new training facility,” and once proposed turning some of the still vacant schools shuttered by Emanuel into training facilities.
Lightfoot tried to mitigate some of that criticism in her speech. “We can and we will build trust between our people and our brave police officers so that the communities and police trust each other—not fear each other,” she said.
The Chicago City Council is also poised to shift left, with at least five members of the Democratic Socialists of America winning races. In addition to Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Daniel La Spata, who both won their seats in the first round, Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward), and Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) won seats on City Council in their respective runoffs. A sixth socialist candidate, Rossana Rodríguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) is poised to win against incumbent Deb Mell in an extremely tight race. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Rodríguez Sanchez led Mell 5,479 to 5,415 votes, but the race is still too close to call with mail-in ballots still needing to be counted.