CHICAGO (AP) — Lori Lightfoot made history as the first black woman and first openly gay mayor of Chicago, and triumphed Four years ago, as an outsider, he vowed to root out corruption in City Hall and build a safer, fairer city.
But her re-election bid has come under fire amid concerns about high crime rates in the country’s third-largest city and accusations that she has been too hostile and sometimes downright mean – criticisms she dismisses as sexist and racist The doctrine discredits a hard-line leader passionate about Chicago.
Lightfoot was forced to play on the defensive ahead of a crowded Feb. 28 election in a tight race that has turned into a contest of personalities and policy debate.
“We’ve set out to make Chicago better,” Lightfoot said during a recent debate. “I want to finish what we’ve started.”
With nine candidates in the race, it’s unlikely that anyone will pass the 50 percent threshold needed to win an official nonpartisan election outright. That means the winner will likely be a runoff between the top two vote-getters on April 4.
If she loses, Lightfoot would become the first Chicago mayor in decades to run for re-election and lose. Unlike her predecessors, Lightfoot does not enjoy a fundraising advantage over her top competitors.
This year’s election will be an early test of how crime affects mayoral races in big cities, Democratic strongholds. Other major cities that elected mayors this year, including Philadelphia and Atlanta, are also grappling with how to balance progressive ideals with residents’ daily concerns about keeping their families safe.
Former federal prosecutor Lightfoot, who never ran for political office, emerges from crowded field In 2019, defeat a much higher-profile candidate with the support of a voter weary of political corruption and cover-ups.
She said her administration has made concrete progress on key issues, from pouring money into communities that have endured decades of disinvestment to getting illegal guns off the streets. But she noted that the past four years have not been easy, with the global pandemic and protests over police violence representing “some of the toughest times we’ve ever faced” in Chicago.
Lightfoot has sometimes won praise for her handling of the crisis, such as when she ordered a lockdown early in the coronavirus pandemic, and her image of the deadpan mayor became a popular meme. But at other times, Lightfoot’s actions have also been called into question.
After the killing of George Floyd As Minneapolis police sparked protests and civil unrest, including smashed storefront windows and fires, Lightfoot ordered the city to erect a suspension bridge over the Chicago River in an attempt to keep protesters from entering downtown. Some in the city saw it as elitism, a way to preserve the highly segregated, upscale parts of the city at the expense of communities in struggling business districts that were also devastated.
But Lightfoot will be hit the hardest by rising crime, with homicides hitting a 25-year high of about 800 in 2021. Lightfoot said she has a program that works, noting that homicides have decreased in the last year. But they are still higher than when she took office, and there are growing concerns about other violent crimes in the city, including carjackings.
“We’re making progress year by year,” Lightfoot said. “But I know people in the city don’t feel safe.”
Lightfoot’s strongest opponent may be two-term U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a former member of Chicago’s city council, state senate and county council, who ran off against then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel eight years ago. lose.
Lightfoot has run TV ads accusing Garcia of corruption, noting that his House campaign took money from Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX accused of massive financial fraud crime. Garcia said he did not know Bankman-Fried, whose campaign gave back donations directly.
Garcia touted his record working with communities across the city and getting along with others in a way he said Lightfoot didn’t.
“She was aggressive, which was unnecessarily. She was too much,” Garcia said.
Elected as a reform-minded outsider who would move away from paid politics in cities, Lightfoot was criticized when a campaign staffer emailed public school teachers seeking students to volunteer on the campaign in exchange for class credit . Lightfoot apologized, saying it was a mistake. The Inspector General is reviewing possible policy violations.
Some of Lightfoot’s biggest battles have been against the Chicago teachers’ union, which backed her first bid for mayor.The two sides clashed during an 11-day teachers’ strike in 2019 and bickered over the return to in-school teaching during a pandemic.
This year, the teachers union backed Lightfoot’s rival, Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and former Chicago teacher and union organizer. Johnson had criticized Lightfoot’s candidacy as progress and then reneged on a campaign promise he wanted to divert money from the police department to better mental health care and other long-neglected neighborhoods, like the one on the city’s west side, where he lives. side.
Lightfoot also clashed with the Chicago police union, the police fraternity. During a City Council meeting, someone on the microphone called Lightfoot calling the union leader “this FOP clown.”
The police union has backed mayoral candidate Paul Valas, a former city budget director and school leader who served as an adviser to the police union during negotiations with city hall. He has repeatedly called for more police, saying: “Crime is out of control.”
Lightfoot criticized Valas for being a Republican in disguise, noting that he received campaign contributions from Republican donors. Her campaign has blasted him for being too cozy with the police union, calling its leader a “notoriously bigoted” and supporter of former President Donald Trump.
Lightfoot has added support for certain areas of the city. Former Rep. Bobby Rush, a major critic during her first campaign, turned into a prominent supporter this year, joining Reps. Danny Davis and Rowe Robin Kelly’s ranks — whose districts include predominantly black communities — praised her commitment to investing in those districts. Even “under the toughest of circumstances,” Lightfoot has maintained that commitment, Rush said.
The mayor pointed to a series of accomplishments, including pushing for a $15 minimum wage that unions have been seeking for years, and approving a long-awaited casino that is expected to bring millions in revenue and thousands of jobs. She also budgeted more than $3 million to protect abortion, including for those traveling to Chicago from states where abortion is illegal.
In addition to Garcia, Varas and Johnson, other candidates for the election include wealthy businessman Willie Wilson, Chicago City Council members Sofia King and Roderick Sawyer, activist Jamal Green and state Rep. Beam “Cam” Buckner.