End of the line for Mayor Lightfoot

Incumbent ousted as she finished third in non-partisan race; had tension-filled relationship with media 

Back in 2019, Lori Lightfoot stunned everyone by sweeping all fifty wards to become Chicago’s next mayor and the first Black woman and LGBTQ person to do so. But in the end, she was ineffective as a leader in City Hall and she was blown out last week, finishing third in a nine-way race and failing to make the mayoral runoff. 

Lightfoot finished with just 17 percent of the vote, behind leader former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Chicago Teachers Union president Brandon Johnson, with the runoff taking place April 4. Lightfoot did win most majority-black wards in the city but not at the same level as four years ago in the main municipal election, where she easily beat Toni Preckwinkle. Not surprisingly, her coalition of Latino and white voters abandoned her. 

For Lightfoot, her defeat marked the first time any incumbent Chicago mayor was defeated since 1989, when Mayor Eugene Sawyer – who succeeded the late Harold Washington, lost to Richard M. Daley in the Democratic election ordered by a judge to fill out Washington’s second term, who died of a heartattack on November 25, 1987. Many media pundits compared Lightfoot’s loss to those of Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne, who served one term each.

Surprisingly, the mayoral primary and Lightfoot’s defeat didn’t make much national headlines outside of a few footnotes – particularly compared to the recent mayoral elections in New York and Los Angeles. 

Clearly, Lightfoot’s abrasive style wore on most Chicago voters, transitioning from a star on the Democratic stage to a stereotypical reality-TV show villain in the vein of Johnny Fairplay (Survivor) and Real Housewives of Atlanta resident troublemaker Kenya Moore. Conservatives were celebrating her defeat on social media, but a good number of liberal and progressive voters were also turned off by her. Crime became a major issue, as homicides climbed toward levels not seen since the 1990s as residents, companies, and even the Chicago Bears left town. 

The turning point in her term was how she handled the disturbances after George Floyd was killed by police – closing off downtown, which helped spread the rioting into the neighborhoods, notably on the South and West sides. Another round of looting and disturbances took place in the Loop three months later after a police officer shot a twenty year-old suspect in Englewood, with the mayhem even occurring live on the air. It was a national embarrassment for the city on the world stage of which there has been many, but this was the worst one. 

Lightfoot’s relationship with the media during her tenure was a testy one – similar to Donald Trump’s tenure as president. The mayor sought an order to prevent CBS-owned WBBM-TV (CBS 2) from airing video of a botched police raid in Anjanette Young’s home, a decision she later regretted. To mark her two-year anniversary in office, Lightfoot only let reporters of color – notably Black reporters – to interview her in order to bring attention to a lack of diversity in the local news media in an ill-fated move (many Black journalists also questioned the idea.) On the morning after looters descended downtown for a second time, Lightfoot became combative in a pooled press conference (due to Covid), berating the lone reporter in the room. 

But the biggest loss was the Bears departing for Arlington Heights, where they recently closed on the land where the now-closed Arlington Park stands. The NFL team plans to build a brand new stadium in the northwest suburb, departing the antiquated Soldier Field after more than 50 years and two failed renovations. In order to entice the team to stay in town, the Mayor’s office proposed putting a dome on a renovated-yet-again Soldier Field in a video which was predictably laughed off and panned.

When the issue of Chicago Bears’ stadium issues came up, Mayor Lightfoot suggested on Twitter the team should focus on “beating the [Green Bay] Packers finally and being relevant past October.”

The interesting thing is, it’s now Mayor Lightfoot who won’t be relevant past October. Or May, when she leaves office. 


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