Chicago mayoral race leads to runoff between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle, making history

Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle made city history Tuesday by securing spots in an April 2 runoff election, guaranteeing Chicago will have its first female African-American mayor. 

By the end of the night in the most contested mayor’s race ever, Lightfoot had a slim lead with about 17 percent of the vote, and Preckwinkle followed closely behind with 16 percent, according to official election returns.

“It’s not every day that a little black girl from a low-income family in a segregated steel town makes the runoff to be the next mayor of the third largest city in the country,” Lightfoot said.

Daley gathered 15 percent of the vote before he conceded, while Wilson had 11 percent, Mendoza had 9 percent, Enyia had 8 percent, Joyce had 7 percent and Chico had 6 percent.Vallas, McCarthy, Ford,Fioretti, Kozlar and Sales-Griffin all received 5 percent or less of the vote. It was the most crowded field in a mayoral race Chicago has ever seen.

Only 34 percent of all registered voters showed up to the polls; the lowest voter turnout in a Chicago mayoral race was 33 percent in the 2007.

Chico was the first candidate to concede, and the others followed. 

When about 85 percent of precincts had reported votes, Lightfoot took the stage at EvolveHer in River North to thank her supporters.

“All of you here tonight stood with us when so many others said this day would never come,” she said. “The field was too crowded; there was no path for a new reformer without huge donors or being an elected figure for 10,000 years, amidst a pack of establishment figures. People said that I had some good ideas, but that I couldn’t win.”

Later in the evening, Preckwinkle spoke at Lake Shore Cafe in Hyde Park. She shared with her supporters her extensive political experience, and told them why she believes she is the clear best choice.

“There are two key aspects to this job,” she said. “You must be the ambassador for our city—the voice of real, working families that live in all of our communities. But the other aspect of this job is equally important: the responsibility of running the city. It’s not enough to stand at a podium and talk about what you want to see happen. You have to come to this job with the capacity and the capability to make your vision a reality.”

Many candidates struggled to gain traction with voters due to the large playing field, and in pre-election polls, most garnered less than 10 percent of potential votes. But nearly 20 percent of those polled remained undecided a week before the election, according to the NBC5 poll, which had a +/-4 margin of error.

With so much wiggle room, many felt that the race could go in any direction on election day and looked to outside factors which might influence candidates’ success—the most obvious being campaign funding.

All 14 candidates raised nearly $29 million collectively, but most of the money came from the already known candidates, according to the Tribune: Daley raised $8,346,677, Preckwinkle raised $4,617,516, Chico raised $3,340,652, and Mendoza raised $2,812,366. Joyce, Wilson, Lightfoot, McCarthy and Vallas raised between $1.1 million and $2.7 million, while the rest of the candidates’ funding fell below the million dollar mark. Kozlar raised the least amount of money, with a final sum totaling $2,014 as of Monday.

But this year’s election funding had a twist.

Enyia received funding and endorsements from Chicago-born celebrities Chance the Rapper and Kanye West. Many speculated that the endorsements would boost support from younger voters.

Early analysis seems to show that young people did not have much impact at all, as only 74,605 voters between the age of 25 and 34 showed up to the polls today compared to the 189,000 who voted for governor, according to a Sun-Times interview. Chicagoans between the ages of 55 and 65 made up most of the votes, with 110,000 votes cast about a half-hour before the polls closed, the same Sun-Times report said.

This race was widely regarded as a struggle for power between well-known Chicago politicians and newcomers hoping to push the city in a new direction.

Lightfoot’s rise to the top—and the fact that she maintained her lead throughout the evening—was a surprise that few were expecting given her newcomer status. Despite minimal polling, Preckwinkle and Daley consistently ranked highly in the few that were done.

Both Preckwinkle and Daley, alongside Mendoza and Chico, were criticized for their ties to old city politics, most specifically for their connections to Ald. Ed Burke, who was charged with attempted extortion in January.

Other candidates took Burke’s connections to the four candidates and used it to evidence the need to destroy the city’s old Democratic machine. Kozlar was among the most vocal about their ties.

“We have candidates on this stage right now who are not corrupt, and we also have candidates on this stage right now who are corrupt,” Kozlar said at the CWTA mayoral forum Feb. 2. “The people who got us in this mess are not going to be the ones who get us out of it.”

Voters will decide if they agree with him come April when Lightfoot and Preckwinkle face again.

Written for JOUR 278, News Reporting, on deadline, 2/26/19.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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