Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement that she was running for a second term was expected, but her tightly orchestrated campaign run spoke volumes about her re-election plans and the dangers involved.
Lightfoot’s “Five Stop Citywide Tour” began in Ashburn, continued through the Greater Grand Crossing, Little Village, Garfield Park and ended in Lakeview.
Three of the five stations presented their black neighborhood agenda.
To remain politically viable, it needs a strong black voice. Her first task on the road to keeping her job is to shore up what should be her natural base.
It’s been a long slide since April 2019, when Lightfoot smashed Cook County CEO Toni Preckwinkle, won 73% of the vote and all 50 counties, and made history as the first black woman and openly gay person to be elected Mayor of Chicago .
She made it into the February runoff, winning the majority of the city’s white districts on the first ballot. In that round, the black vote went to multimillionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who won 13 mostly black counties on the South and West Sides. Wilson later supported Lightfoot in the runoff, helping her build trust with older, more conservative black voters.
Lightfoot needs these voters now more than ever, and therein lies their problem. She must compete with at least five African American opponents. If the black voice is split, it will be very vulnerable.
Ald is one of those hopefuls. Roderick Sawyer, State Assemblyman Kam Buckner, Wilson and Frederick Collins, a veteran Chicago police officer.
The Santa Claus of Chicago politics, Wilson is best known for his gasoline giveaways. Lightfoot has tried to emulate his generosity by offering gas gift cards to Chicagoans suffering from skyrocketing prices at the pump — and paying for them with taxpayer money.
Sawyer, former chairman of the city council’s Black Caucus and son of a former mayor, could also withdraw Lightfoot’s support.
Other black politicians considering runs include Ald. Sophia King, representing Hyde Park; West Side State Rep. La Shawn Ford; and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who is white, and Ald. Ray Lopez, a Latino, is also in the running.
It’s early days, but it’s very unlikely Lightfoot will be able to get the 50%-plus-1 vote she needs to avoid a runoff.
Black voters tend to favor black incumbents like Lightfoot. The biggest criticism of the mayor, however, is her failure to address rampant crime and violence, a deeply felt scourge in African American communities.
How does she assert herself? For starters, she should send her black allies to deliver a “Keep the Seat” appeal. They should remind voters that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If “we” split the vote, so the argument goes, “we” will lose City Hall.
Another key message she’s signaling: Black folks, we’re all in this together, so stay with me.
“Look, I see,” Lightfoot explained in the video that revealed her reelection bid. “I don’t look or sound like any other mayor we’ve ever had and I had to fight to get a seat at the table. And like so many in our town, I had to fight to have my voice heard. That’s why I will never shy away from fighting every day to turn your voice into action.”
On Thursday, she admonished supporters during an appearance on the South Side. “The fact is, I’m a black woman in America. People bet against us every day. We know we don’t have it easy. We know we are being looked at through a different lens. But that doesn’t mean we’re not ready for the fight.”
Watch Lightfoot play the Harold Washington card. At her inauguration in 2019, she stated, “We are in a time of great hope and opportunity today. And I can’t help but feel the spirit of the great Mayor Harold Washington here with us this morning.”
She will accept the legacy of Chicago’s first black mayor, who, like her, has made racial justice a top priority.
Lightfoot is promoting its signature initiative, the Invest South/West program, which city officials say is plowing $1.4 billion in investments into 10 forgotten neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
If Lightfoot can consolidate African American votes, this self-proclaimed fighter could stand a chance.
Then there is another problem. According to polls, voters’ approval rating for Lightfoot is under 30%, according to recent media reports. This suggests that any opponent could beat them simply by emphasizing their high negatives.
She must win back disgruntled and frustrated white progressives, Latinos, the business community and union leaders. Not an easy task for an antagonistic and choleric mayor.
Laura Washington is a political commentator and longtime journalist based in Chicago. Her columns appear in the Tribune every Monday.
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