After Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek re-election for the mayor of Chicago, a host of qualified candidates piled into the race. Having previously served as chief of staff in President Obama’s administration, Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011, and his tenure as mayor had been exceedingly fraught with scandal. Many Chicagoans came to view the entire political class of the city as corrupt, elite, and out of touch with everyone outside of the Loop.
Enter Lori Lightfoot, a civil servant who had worked behind the scenes in two mayoral administrations. Prior to the mayoral race, Lightfoot was most widely known for having served on an investigative task force examining police misconduct in Chicago. The investigation was far-reaching, and its results were striking: the ensuing report found that the Chicago P.D. had widespread racist tendencies, and that residents of the city viewed them as dangerous and untrustworthy. Following the publication of the report, Lightfoot entered the race.
Lightfoot staged her campaign on similar grounds to that damning report, claiming that Chicago politics were systematically corrupt and in need of a major overhaul. Her campaign slogan was “Let The Light In”. It also didn’t hurt that Lightfoot fit the description for an ‘outsider’; Lightfoot is black, openly gay, and has never served in elected office.
In the February primary, Lightfoot emerged the frontrunner of 14 candidates, narrowly edging out the second-place finisher, Toni Preckwinkle, another black woman and the head of the Democratic Party in Chicago. Most notably, both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle defeated Richard Daley, a member of the infamous Daley family that has been a dynasty in Chicago politics. Daley’s supporters were certain that he would at least land in the top two and get a chance at a run-off, but voters showed that they were sick of the same-old names and mentalities.
This past week, Lightfoot won her run-off against Preckwinkle, having successfully positioned herself as the more progressive candidate and widening her lead from the primary. She will become not only first black woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor, but also the first openly gay person. She pledges to bring equity and prosperity to the entire city, which is notoriously segregated, claiming that she would transform Chicago into “a place where your ZIP code doesn’t determine your destiny”.
The wider implications of Lightfoot’s victory are all-too-clear. In a nation frustrated with corruption and dishonest leadership, voters turn to candidates who can credibly claim to be outside the influence of the powers that be. More and more, those candidates are women and particularly women of color. As we approach the primaries for the presidency in 2020, this trend only stands to grow stronger.
© Dr. Carmen Schaye