Lightfoot becomes first African American woman to lead Chicago


Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and her daughter Vivian Lightfoot appear with supporters at EvolveHer in Chicago Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Lori Lightfoot will be the first African American woman to be the mayor of the city of Chicago, defeating political heavyweight Toni Preckwinkle in a historic landslide election.

Lightfoot won the election with 73.6 percent of the vote to Preckwinkle’s 26.3 percent, the largest margin of victory in Chicago’s history. Lightfoot won all 50 wards and 99 percent of the city’s 2,069 precincts.

She triumphed over Preckwinkle, the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, by campaigning as an outsider and a reformer.

“When we started this journey 11 months ago, nobody gave us a chance,” Lightfoot said in her victory speech while standing next to her wife and 10-year-old daughter. “We were up against powerful interests, a powerful machine and a powerful mayor. But I remembered something Martin Luther King said when I was very young: ‘Faith is taking the first step when you can’t see the staircase.’”

Lightfoot’s optimistic victory speech emphasized unity and sought to contrast herself with current Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Critics of Emanuel say his centrist pro-business, downtown-focused policies came at the expense of neighborhoods in need of investment.

“We can and we will give our neighborhoods — all of our neighborhoods — the time and attention that we give the downtown,” she said. “And we won’t just invest in our neighborhoods. We can and we will make sure our neighborhoods — all of our neighborhoods and all of our neighbors — are invested in each other.”

“This is not us vs. them, or neighborhoods vs. downtown. We are in this together, and we will grow together.”

Lightfoot ended her speech by asking its attendees to hold hands.

“You may be strangers, but in this room, in this city, we are all neighbors,” she said. “I want to feel that power, neighbor to neighbor, that comes when we unite and join together as one Chicago, indivisible and united for all.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were much closer in the polls in the Feb. 26 general election than in Lightfoot’s victory; Lightfoot garnered 17.5 percent of the vote and Preckwinkle had 16 percent.

But in the months between the general election and the April 2 runoff, Lightfoot set out to draw a clear distinction between her and Preckwinkle, whom she portrayed as a corrupt insider who was part of the Chicago political machine.

Preckwinkle began to fall behind after taking some criticism for her first TV ad after the general election, in which she chose to attack Lightfoot’s record as a corporate attorney. Lightfoot opted instead for a positive, issue-based advertisement, though she would eventually run an ad that attacked Preckwinkle’s connections to disgraced Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios and indicted 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke.

Despite a bitter and aggressive campaign, Preckwinkle struck a conciliatory tone in her concession speech.

“This may not be the outcome we wanted, but while I may be disappointed, I’m not disheartened,” she said. “For one thing, this is clearly an historic night. Not long ago, two African-American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable. And while it may be true that we took different paths to get here, tonight is about the way forward.”

Preckwinkle had the support of major unions like SEIU-1 and the Chicago Teachers Union and the endorsements of federal and state lawmakers. Lightfoot had the support of LGBTQ activist groups, progressive policy groups and a five of the mayoral candidates from the general election.

Lightfoot was formerly a federal prosecutor, the head of the Chicago Police Board and the Police Accountability Task Force.

Lightfoot, 56, was one of the earliest candidates to announce their candidacy for mayor, and would eventually emerge as the most popular of the field of 14 candidates vying to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in what was the densest field of mayoral candidates in the history of the city.

Incumbent 43rd Ward Ald. Michelle Smith won her runoff bout against challenger Derek Lindblom with 53 percent of the vote. Smith will enter her third term as alderman of the ward containing DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.   

Voter turnout was slightly lower than the Feb. 26 general election, with 31.8 percent of registered voters casting a ballot.


While voter turnout was low compared to statewide and national races, Chicago has one of the highest voter turnouts among big cities for municipal elections. New York City’s 2017 mayoral election saw about 18 percent of voters cast a ballot and Los Angeles’ 2017 election had a turnout rate of 20 percent.