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The Good Guys Win–for a Change

Don Rose 14 March 2019 No Comment

Chicago’s 14-candidate free-for-all first round of mayoral voting saw every traditional voting bloc–ethnic or political–split asunder, except for the liberal-reform northside lakefront and wards just west. That’s why independent-progressive Lori Lightfoot, an African American, came in first. She captured most of the reformers citywide, including the gay vote. (Disclosure: I was and remain an unpaid advisor to her campaign.).

It’s also the first Chicago mayoral in memory where corruption was the definitive issue. The most consequential figure was not one of the candidates but the highly powerful, ethically challenged alderman, Ed Burke, who got caught on an FBI wiretap allegedly extorting a businessman.


Let me explain.

First, a dozen candidates initially lined up to run against an unpopular Mayor Rahm Emanuel. When he declined to run, four establishment figures tied to the old Machine jumped in: County Board President and party boss Toni Preckwinkle, State Comptroller Susana Mendoza plus Bill Daley and Gery Chico who held numerous appointive positions in government–Daley widely known as top advisor to his brudda da mare.
They immediately became front-runners–with Preckwinkle, an African American woman, well ahead with 30 percent. Then came the Burke scandal–followed by another involving an alderman wearing a wire–and the four establishmentarians became tainted by financial and political relationships to the two aldermen.

The race was reconfigured. Preckwinkle sank to 15% with the others close behind. The remaining 10 candidates on the ballot had targets to shoot at in place of Rahm. Preckwinkle, however, claimed a progressive record, though her reputation as a reformer suffered badly through ties to Burke and the disgraced assessor, Joe Berrios. She is disliked for a highly unpopular soda-pop tax that was later repealed, but she was endorsed by several big unions.

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor who convicted a corrupt alderman and later, as head of the city’s police board, became a potent advocate for police reform, lagged in the polls and fundraising but performed well in numerous debates.

Then she gained a powerful endorsement from the liberal Sun-Times, several progressive-reform leaders and two big LGBTQ organizations. (She is in a same-sex marriage.) She began moving up with a fine commercial slamming the “Burke Four” and succinctly laying out her program. With a week to go she was in the top three and election day led Preckwinkle 17.5% to 16%.

Meanwhile, candidate Jerry Joyce, son of ex-Mayor Richie Daley’s top organizer, broke into Bill Daley’s constituency by capturing four key wards, depriving Daley of the runoff. The split African American vote was led by Willie Wilson, a millionaire who hands out money left and right to help people pay mortgages and buy essentials. He likely deprived Preckwinkle of enough votes to finish first. The divided Latinx turnout was pitifully low and Mendoza and Chico dropped like rocks.

Thus we have an historic runoff between two African American women not too far apart ideologically. Preckwinkle immediately began trashing Lightfoot’s progressive credentials while Lightfoot continued pressing for change.

The winner, April 2, will be the woman who gets the most support from constituencies of the losers. That’s the known unknown, but a hypothetical matchup before the first round showed Lightfoot ahead.

More later. Until then, let’s thank Ed Burke.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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