‘Chicago voters seem to be in a ‘throw the bums out’ frame of mind…’
(AFP) Still reeling from the Jussie Smollett hoax that shook the Windy City last month, Chicago residents went to the polls Tuesday to elect the the city’s first black female mayor—and potentially its first openly gay mayor.
Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, both African-American women, were competing for the top elected post in the city—the former casting herself as an outsider and reformer, and the latter as an experienced, steady hand.
The election was an inflection point in America’s third largest city. Since 1837, voters have elected only one black mayor and one female mayor. If Lightfoot won, she would also become the city’s first openly gay chief executive.
With the role of identity politics effectively neutralized, the two mayoral candidates faced a tough sleight of issues in the Democratic stronghold—fed up with gun violence that claims more lives than in other major American cities, and years of political corruption.
Analysts said voters were likely looking to shake up city politics.
“This is one of the most significant elections in Chicago history,” Evan McKenzie, political science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, told AFP.
“Chicago voters seem to be in a ‘throw the bums out’ frame of mind,” he said.
A Competitive Race
The initial field consisted of 14 contenders, but most moderates and establishment figures were sidelined in a February vote.
The two highest vote-getters competed in Tuesday’s race—both running as progressive reformers, promising to clean up city government and reduce economic inequality.
“The message is that (voters) want new ideas and cleaner government,” McKenzie said.
Community groups have for years complained about disparities in living conditions among the sprawling city’s diverse communities.
Reforming the police department, which has a sordid history of abusive tactics, and city hall, which is mired in a federal corruption probe of one of its members, are also top of mind, McKenzie said.
“[Voters] are tired of corruption, federal investigations of city officials, police misconduct, and a budget crisis,” he said.
While the two candidates were alike in their political leanings and policy ideas, they sought to differentiate themselves with their backgrounds.
Lightfoot, who has never held elected office, is a former federal prosecutor who headed a panel investigating the city’s policing problems.
Preckwinkle is currently the chief executive of Cook County in which Chicago is located, and has held elected office in the city for decades.
Local media reported that Lightfoot appeared to have more support in pre-election polling.
Both candidates engaged in last-minute campaigning, shaking hands at commuter stations and outside voting locations.
“People [are] hoping for something different to come along. To be the vessel for that is overwhelming,” Lightfoot told reporters Tuesday.
Race, Violence and Police
The election comes only a week after the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx controversially dropped the 16 “disorderly conduct” charges against Smollett, which had even notoriously liberal outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel decrying the partisan politics of privilege.
The “Empire” actor had claimed, perplexingly, that he was accosted in the heart of Chicago by two men who shouted “This is MAGA country” and wore hats emblazoned with President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
However, his story was debunked when police discovered he had paid a pair of Nigerian brothers with whom he was acquainted to supposedly assault him, though cameras showed him entering the lobby of an apartment building with no signs of distress.
Equally on the mind of Chicago’s black voters was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whose case—along with a rash of escalating violence—played a large role in Emanuel’s decision not to run for a third term.
McDonald was killed by police in a 2014 encounter caught on police dash cam video.
The video — showing officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into the knife-wielding teen even after he fell to the ground—was not released for more than a year. Van Dyke was convicted and sentenced to nearly seven years in prison.
But police also have become increasingly demoralized over the escalating crime, and especially homicide in the city over the past few years.
More than 550 people were murdered last year alone—even as the downtown business district, and areas to the north and along the city’s famed lake shore, have enjoyed an economic boom.
In the final hours, Preckwinkle expressed optimism and stressed the need to address the city’s violence problem with a mix of social services.
“The response can’t be solely a police response,” she said.
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
© Agence France-Presse