It’s only the second time Chicago has had a runoff campaign for mayor, which occurs when no candidate collects more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round.
The remaining six candidates, former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, state Rep. La Shawn Ford, former Ald. Bob Fioretti, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin and attorney John Kozlar, each collected less than 6 percent.
The race marks the city’s second consecutive runoff, after then-Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia forced Mayor Rahm Emanuel to a second round in 2015, before the mayor went on to win handily.
In declaring victory Tuesday night, neither candidate spoke directly to the historic nature of the results, though Preckwinkle hinted at it.
“We may not yet be at the finish line, but we should acknowledge that history is being made,” Preckwinkle told supporters at a raucous event in Hyde Park. “It’s clear we’re at a defining moment in our city’s history, but the challenges that our city faces are not simply ideological. It’s not enough to say Chicago stands at a crossroads. We need to fight to change its course.”
“So what do you think of us now?” a smiling Lightfoot asked the cheering crowd. “This, my friends, is what change looks like!”
The 14 candidates who vied for the fifth-floor office at City Hall marked the largest field to run for mayor in Chicago’s 181-year history. The race to succeed Emanuel, who made the surprise announcement after Labor Day that he would not seek a third term, comes at a pivotal time for Chicago and unfolded against the backdrop of an ongoing federal corruption investigation at City Hall.
Lightfoot won 11 wards, and her base proved to be in the liberal lakefront wards on the North Side. She won four of those six wards, with the other two going to Daley. Lightfootalso pulled out wins in other predominantly white North Side wards and all three of the city’s racially mixed wards.
Preckwinkle won just four of the city’s 50 wards, all predominantly black wards centered on her Hyde Park base on the South Side. She also led Lightfoot by 24 votes in the diverse 26th Ward on the Northwest Side.
Wilson won the city’s other 14 majority-black wards on the South and West sides, though Preckwinkle finished second in all of them and carried high enough vote totals across the city to pull her into the second spot.
Daley captured eight wards, including the Loop and his ancestral home base in the 11th Ward. But it was Joyce who took the four white wards on the edge of the city on the Northwest and Southwest sides that are home to scores of city workers, cops and firefighters, including his base in the 19th Ward and the 13th Ward home of House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Joyce stayed in the race against Daley despite the long and mutually beneficial relationship the families have enjoyed. Joyce’s father, Jeremiah Joyce, was one of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s top advisers for years, helping craft the political strategy that helped Daley run Chicago for decades.
And from 1993 until 2011 — most of Daley’s brother’s time as mayor — Chicago Aviation Partners, a company that included Jeremiah Joyce among its shareholders, enjoyed the incredibly lucrative contract running Terminal 5 concessions at O’Hare International Airport. Emanuel took that deal away shortly after taking office.
With his voice hoarse from emotion and an intense campaign, Daley conceded as his powerful family — including his brother, the former mayor — looked on.
“We all must accept it, and we will move on,” he said. “No matter what happens in April, our commitment to Chicago will not end.”
Daley specifically thanked his brother for his support and service to the city. The former mayor, who did not publicly campaign for his brother and has avoided the spotlight in recent years, was shielded from reporters at the election night event.
Tuesday’s results also marked a substantial blow to the aspirations of Mendoza, a statewide office holder who campaigned on a message of bringing the “next generation” into City Hall only to finish fifth and earn a trip back to Springfield.
“I haven’t lost an election in 20 years,” Mendoza told supporters. “It stings.”
A turbulent race
During the last six months, the mayoral race had been defined by a series of twists and turns.
The campaign began with a dozen people declaring they would challenge Emanuel, some with ties to the mayor. Eight of them would make the final ballot — Lightfoot, McCarthy, Vallas, Wilson, Enyia, Joyce, Sales-Griffin and Kozlar.
That group’s satisfaction with the mayor’s departure from the race in September would be short-lived. The candidates had to recalibrate their largely anti-Emanuel campaigns while seeing their efforts to raise campaign cash and get their message out somewhat choked off by four heavyweight establishment candidates who soon would enter the contest. When he dropped out, Emanuel predicted none of the announced candidates would become the next mayor, saying it took more than a “one-trick pony” to run America’s third-largest city.
While the financial advantages separated those four, so, too, did the federal corruption investigation at City Hall.
Chico, Daley, Preckwinkle and Mendoza each had long-standing ties to Ald. Edward Burke that became readily apparent soon after federal agents raided his City Hall and 14th Ward offices in late November, papered over the windows and hauled out boxes of records and computers. The candidates all quickly offered an array of ethics reforms, including creating term limits, banning outside income for aldermen and ending veto power aldermen hold over permits and projects in their ward.
By early January, federal authorities had charged Burke with attempted extortion, alleging he held up permits that a restaurant magnate needed in his ward in exchange for property tax appeals business at his law firm and a $10,000 campaign contribution to another politician. The Tribune reported that the contribution had gone to Preckwinkle, which she said she returned.
A few weeks later, it became clear that the federal probe had not been limited to Burke, as it was revealed that longtime Ald. Danny Solis had worn a wire on colleagues for a couple of years while facing his own allegations of misconduct. Madigan also was recorded by the FBI seeking business at his law firm from a business owner who needed Solis’ approval at City Hall.
While Solis and Madigan have not been charged with wrongdoing, the political damage for the establishment candidates was swift.
The episode conjured up similar federal probes that took down high-ranking officials at City Hall when Daley’s brother was mayor. The Daley family also had been political donors to Burke, with whom they’d cut deals at City Hall for decades.
Chico was left to “repudiate” his close friend and mentor Burke, who earlier had backed Chico by calling him the most qualified candidate to become mayor. Opponents also were quick to point out how Chico long had lobbied Burke and Solis on behalf of clients seeking deals at City Hall.
Mendoza, who was married at Burke’s home, also denounced the man who helped get her started in politics on the Southwest Side. She gave $10,000 in Burke campaign donations to charity and did the same with an additional $142,000 tied to Solis.
But it was Preckwinkle who bore the brunt of the Burke blowback, tied directly to the scandal by the 50-year alderman’s alleged shakedown of a campaign contribution for Preckwinkle.
She, too, donated $12,000 in Burke money to charity and vowed to return an additional $116,000 she received at a fundraiser at the alderman’s Gage Park compound. Preckwinkle also was left to explain why she hired Burke’s son, Ed Burke, Jr., to a six-figure job at the county while he faced sexual harassment allegations in his previous job with the Cook County sheriff.
Those scandals piled on top of other Preckwinkle controversies. She misled the public about when she knew about sexual harassment allegations against her chief of staff, whom she fired. She waited months before firing her security chief after evidence surfaced that a county SUV he drove had been used to illegally transport political materials. And just last week, she fired a senior campaign aide after he invoked Nazis to criticize Lightfoot in a social media post.
All of it led Preckwinkle to describe the campaign in the race’s final days with a single word: “tough.” But in the end, she survived all the controversy — at least for now.
Lightfoot vs. Preckwinkle
All the stumbles for the other candidates and talk of corruption breathed fresh oxygen into the campaigns of the outsider candidates, but none of them capitalized on it as much as Lightfoot. The former federal prosecutor frequently took aim at Preckwinkle and referred to herself as “unbought and unbossed” on the campaign trail.
Lighftoot and Preckwinkle both, however, are strong advocates for criminal justice and police reform in an era when Chicago politics have been influenced by the fallout of the Laquan McDonald police shooting and the subsequent federal civil rights investigation into the Police Department.
However, there was little talk of common ground Tuesday night.
Lightfoot positioned her campaign as the truly progressive one against the entrenched Chicago political machine. Preckwinkle, chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, sold herself as the candidate with a track record in progressive politics who long had been taking on the city’s powerful interests.
Preckwinkle, who stayed above the fray for the last six months, wasted no time in attacking Lightfoot, referencing her appointment as the president of the Police Board under Emanuel and as a deputy procurement officer and head of a police investigative agency under former Mayor Daley.
“While my opponent was taking multiple appointments in the Daley and Emanuel administrations, I fought the power elite who have been trying to hold this city back,” Preckwinkle said, without mentioning Lightfoot by name. In her third term as the county’s chief executive, Preckwinkle also portrayed herself as the most capable to tackle the difficult job of mayor.
“It’s not enough to stand at a podium and talk about what you want to see happen. You have to come to this job with a capacity and the capability to make your vision a reality,” she said. “My entire career has prepared me for this moment.”
Lighfoot, meanwhile, thanked supporters for having the “courage to stand with our campaign against the machine,” and positioned herself as the only reform candidate left in the race who had emerged from “a pack of establishment figures.” She also again cast herself as the underdog against the city’s political power structure.
“People said that I had some good ideas but couldn’t win,” said Lightfoot, who grew up in Massillon, Ohio, and moved to Chicago to practice law after graduating from the University of Michigan. “It’s true that not every day a little black girl in a low-income family from a segregated steel town makes the runoff to be the next mayor of the third-largest city in America!”
Whomever gets elected Chicago’s next mayor will be greeted by a plethora of big challenges when they take office in mid-May.
For the last three years, the city has struggled to tamp down repeated surges of violent crime that left 561 killed and 2,948 people shot last year, and the Police Department faces a federal consent decree that will drive reforms in a department with a history of misconduct and excessive force against minorities.
Chicago must come up with an additional $1 billion in payments to public employee pensions by 2023, including $270 million next year, at a time when taxpayers already are weary after two terms of Emanuel issuing record property tax increases while hiking other fees to stabilize the city’s shaky finances.
And the next mayor faces a widening gap between the wealthy corporate success and booming development of downtown and scores of largely African-American neighborhoods that have faced a sharp population drop after decades of economic decline and gang violence. That has been a chief criticism of Emanuel’s tenure as mayor and a theme both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot hit hard in their campaigns.
“It’s easy to call ourselves a world-class city,” Preckwinkle said in her speech. “You can stick those words on a website, billboard or the side of a bus, but Chicago won’t actually be a world-class city until everyone who lives here has the opportunity to build safe, prosperous and productive lives for themselves and their children.”
Lightfoot related that dynamic through her upbringing in a poor, working-class family and her rare status as an openly gay candidate.
“As an LGBTQ+ person, I thought about running for mayor when no other LGBTQ+ person had ever made the ballot for mayor in this city. And as a mayoral candidate, I traveled across the city and saw people who looked like me and families like mine who were struggling in every neighborhood,” Lightfoot said. “I’m not here despite these hardships, despite the odds. I’m here because my personal and professional experiences have prepared me to lead with compassion, integrity and persistence.
“I’m here because I know on a deeply personal level that we need change.”
Chicago Tribune’s David Heinzmann, Stacy St. Clair, Todd Lighty and Rick Pearson contributed.