Lightfoot faces uphill battle in reelection campaign


Jacqueline Cardenas

Lightfoot is polling behind opponents Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Paul Vallas, according to polls by M3 Strategies and Crain’s Chicago Business.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has a steep hill to climb if she hopes to win re-election this February. Lightfoot became the first Black woman and the first openly gay elected mayor of Chicago with her 2019 runoff victory against Tony Preckwinkle.

Now, early election forecasts see Lightfoot as an underdog in a crowded field of nine candidates. A recent survey from The Daily Line and Crain’s Chicago Business had the mayor in fourth place at 11%, while an M3 Strategies survey had her in third at 15%.

The top two vote-getters in the field are expected to compete in a runoff election in April if no candidate wins a majority on Feb. 28. These early surveys indicate that Lightfoot may struggle to qualify for the runoff, let alone win outright in the first round.

Many Chicagoans aren’t surprised at Lightfoot’s low performance early in the race, given her tumultuous mayoral tenure. Lightfoot struggled to curb crime while leading the city. She was also at the center of several controversies, from being sued for defamation to her recent reelection campaign email scandal.

“I really didn’t think she would be as bad as she is,” said Jazmine Salas, a 31-year-old living in Little Village. “I don’t know a single person who supports her. I have never met a Lori Lightfoot supporter. She has truly alienated everybody: the unions, the Black community, the Latino community, workers in general, businesses. Even the cops hate her.”

Salas, who organized for more police accountability in Chicago for the past several years, indicated that she plans to support Cook County Board of Commissioners member Brandon Johnson in the mayoral race.

“When Brandon Johnson announced that he was running, it was a clear choice for me,” Salas said. “I think the policies that he has put forward are very much about addressing the root causes of many of the issues happening in our city. I think a lot of candidates are looking for quick fixes. You know, let’s slap some more cops here, let’s do this quick little program over there.”

Contrary to Salas, 27-year-old Andersonville resident Jack Schuleman isn’t enthused by any candidates currently running. But he, too, is eager to vote against Lightfoot.

“There’s not a single thing over her last tenure that’s made me confident in her running the city again,” Schuleman said. “But the field running against Lori is a clown show.”

Schuleman is particularly fixated on the CTA as his primary voting issue and has been disappointed in Lightfoot’s handling of public transit during her mayoral tenure.

“Not only is it personally frustrating how the CTA is right now, but it’s just crippling the city,” he said. “I personally have a vendetta against Lori Lightfoot because I got trapped downtown when she raised the bridges and stopped the L during the George Floyd protests.”

Despite the crowded field, Schuleman said he doesn’t see any candidates prioritizing his issues.

“I mean, gun to my head, I guess I would vote for ‘Chuy’ Garcia, just because he seems like he has the coalition behind him and a general sense of popular support among politically active people,” Schuleman said.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is the consensus frontrunner according to early election insights. Garcia is a U.S. representative for IL’s 4th district and the only Latino candidate in the mayoral race. Considered Lightfoot’s biggest challenger, Garcia polled 25% to Lightfoot’s 11% in The Daily Line and Crain’s Chicago Business’s survey, and 28% to Lightfoot’s 15% in the M3 Strategies survey.

As a result of this early support, Lightfoot is going on the offensive. In early January, the Lightfoot campaign released an ad attacking Garcia for his connection to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who is accused of stealing billions of dollars of customer and investor assets. Bankman-Fried donated to Garcia’s congressional campaign in 2022.

Progressive mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green does not think these efforts from the Lightfoot campaign will be enough to repair her fractured relationship with Chicagoans.

“I think that Mayor Lightfoot has just not been good at collaborating, hasn’t been good at connecting with the people that are in these communities and on the ground,” Green told The DePaulia. “At the end of the day, we need a mayor who’s really grassroots, who really understands everyday issues, and who’s connected to the people that are doing the work.”

Green believes that Chicagoans are craving a change in leadership, hence Lightfoot’s early polling struggles. He voiced his disappointment for Lightfoot’s handling of issues like poverty and public safety in the city.

“Public safety is like the overhead issue,” Green said. “When you talk about housing, when you talk about investment into safe spaces, you’re talking about job creation… even food deserts. All of that ties into public safety.”

More than 70% of voters ranked crime and public safety as the top two issues facing Chicago, according to a recent poll by International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150.

Green joins Vallas, Garcia and Lightfoot in the nine-candidate election field. Other candidates include Democratic state Rep. Kam Buckner, Brandon Johnson, Ald. Sophia King, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and businessman Willie Wilson.