Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid and will not serve a second term as the mayor of Chicago after failing to advance to a runoff election planned for April. There were nine candidates in the mayoral race, including the two top vote earners, Paul Vallas, a former chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, and Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner. Vallas and Johnson are backed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Teachers Union, respectively. With nearly 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Lightfoot came in third, with only 17.1 percent of the vote.
Lightfoot's loss marked a significant downturn in support from when she was elected in 2019 "by winning every single ward in Chicago, securing almost 75 percent of the vote," Axios reports. Lightfoot made history as the city's first Black woman and openly gay mayor, and many hailed her win as a "new, transparent, progressive day for Chicago politics," Axios continues. However, enthusiasm around her leadership waned over her tumultuous term. In the weeks leading up to the election, "some of her most ardent former supporters publicly backed other candidates."
Lightfoot won in 2019 after promising to tackle corruption in City Hall. Still, critics blamed her for an uptick in crime "that occurred in cities across the U.S. during the pandemic and criticized her as being a divisive, overly contentious leader," The Associated Press writes. Lightfoot is "the first elected Chicago mayor to lose a re-election bid since 1983, when Jane Byrne, the city's first female mayor, lost her Democratic primary," AP adds. Following her loss, Lightfoot said serving as Chicago's mayor was "the honor of a lifetime."
What are the commentators saying?
Lightfoot struggled to keep her promises to lower Chicago crime rates and ended up at odds with the Chicago Teacher's Union, City Council members, and the media. She also "sparred with the police union over overtime scheduling and the city vaccination policy," The Wall Street Journal reports.
Some might say that she unluckily took office during a time tainted by "the pandemic, civil unrest triggered by the murder of George Floyd, and the violent crime wave after those demonstrations," Chicago Sun-Times analyst Fran Spielman writes. But bad timing, Spielman says, doesn't excuse "Lightfoot's inability to get along with people and a relationship with the City Council so contentious at least seven members of her own leadership team abandoned ship, endorsing other mayoral candidates."
Veteran political strategist David Axelrod told Spielman that Lightfoot "favors the clenched fist over the outstretched hand, and when you're mayor, you need both." During her term, she "antagonized a lot of people, and those chickens are coming home to roost," Axelrod said.
Did Lightfoot's race play a role in her "spectacular fall," Charles M. Blow wonders at The New York Times. "Two things can be true simultaneously," he says: Crime can be on the rise, and it can also be used as "a political wedge issue" against Black officials. "When the perception of crime collides with ingrained societal concepts of race and gender, politicians, particularly Black women, can pay the price."
What's next for Chicago?
Lightfoot will serve the remainder of her term, which ends in May. Because none of the nine mayoral candidates earned at least 50 percent of the vote to win outright, Vallas and Johnson, the top two vote earners, will face each other again for a runoff election. "Chicago is in for another month of heavy campaigning before the runoff election on Apr. 4," Axios says. The remaining finalists "who could court niche voting blocks in the first round, will now have to reach out to the entire city."
The remaining mayoral candidates have "starkly different views on policing and education," The New York Times writes. While campaigning, Vallas called for "bolstering the police force, improving arrest rates for serious crimes, and expanding charter schools." After casting his vote, Vallas declared, "The city clearly is in crisis, and people want a crisis manager who can come in and focus on getting things done." On the other hand, Johnson has "staked out a position to the left of Ms. Lightfoot, at one point suggesting that he agreed with the movement to reduce funding to police departments, though he later backtracked."