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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago loses her bid for reelection

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot carries her lunch at Manny’s Deli in Chicago, on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. There’s an Election Day tradition of politicians dining with constituents at Manny’s Deli in Chicago.

By Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith

Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago lost her bid for a second term Tuesday, The Associated Press said, a resounding defeat that reflected widespread dissatisfaction from voters over her handling of crime and policing in the nation’s third-largest city.

Four years ago, Lightfoot made history as the first Black woman to be elected mayor of Chicago when she swept all 50 of the city’s wards. But she saw her popularity plunge during the coronavirus pandemic as Chicago suffered a spike in violent crime, with looting and destruction on its famed Magnificent Mile in 2020.

The two candidates to emerge from Tuesday’s first round of voting — Paul Vallas, a former public schools executive, and Brandon Johnson, a county board commissioner — will advance to a runoff election April 4.

Lightfoot, who is the first sitting mayor in Chicago since 1989 to lose reelection, said in a concession speech late Tuesday that she “will be rooting and praying for our next mayor to deliver for the people of this city for years to come.”

“I stand here with my head held high and a heart full of gratitude,” Lightfoot said.

With an estimated 94% of ballots counted as of Tuesday night, Vallas had won 34% of the vote, and Johnson 20%.

The race showcased the political divide that has emerged in some of America’s largest, most liberal cities, where hard-on-crime policies have increasingly resonated with voters. But it also demonstrated the uniquely Chicago peril of leading the city with no natural base or ward to count on for loyal support in tough times: Lightfoot, an Ohio native, had never held elective office before becoming mayor.

The contest for mayor is now narrowed to two candidates with starkly different views on policing and education. Vallas has portrayed Chicago as being in a state of turmoil under Lightfoot’s leadership. With an endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police, he has run an aggressive campaign arguing that he can make the city safer, calling for bolstering the police force, improving arrest rates for serious crimes and expanding charter schools.

“The city clearly is in crisis, and people want a crisis manager who can come in and focus on getting things done,” Vallas said after casting his ballot Tuesday in an elementary school gym on the South Side.

Johnson, 46, an educator who was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, staked out a position to the left of Lightfoot, at one point suggesting that he agreed with the movement to reduce funding to police departments, although he later backtracked.

At a polling place Tuesday, Serena Mascio, 40, said she moved to Chicago from the suburbs in 2017 and was voting for mayor in the city for the first time.

“I’m voting for Brandon Johnson because instead of more police, he’s focused on more mental health needs,” she said. “He brings a different perspective.”

Lightfoot, whose victory four years ago also made her the first openly gay person to lead Chicago, was challenged on the campaign trail by residents unimpressed with her handling of crime, an issue that loomed above all others in the campaign.

Johnson, who was one of seven Black candidates, won over many political progressives, while Vallas consolidated support in more conservative neighborhoods. Vallas was the only white candidate in the race; Chicago has roughly equal numbers of Black, white and Hispanic residents.

In the days leading up the election, Lightfoot remained hopeful that she would secure a spot in the runoff, despite a clear loss in support. She told voters that crime was on its way down — homicides and shootings had, in fact, decreased in 2022 from the peak during the pandemic. But in 2022, robberies, thefts and burglaries increased from the year before, leaving many Chicagoans unsettled about the direction of the city.

Lightfoot had pointed to investments in long-neglected neighborhoods and made the case that the city had emerged from the pandemic in a strong position.

On Tuesday, she greeted Chicagoans outside a grocery store and a sandwich shop on the West Side, telling them that she was hearing from voters who were “fearful” of Vallas and his views.

Tina Marie, a West Side resident who had just finished buying groceries when she spotted Lightfoot, said she was impressed by the mayor’s leadership during the pandemic.

“When the pandemic broke out, her and the governor shut Chicago down,” said Marie, a retired department store worker. She said there was “no telling where we would be if they hadn’t shut Chicago down.”

On the South Side, Lindsay Ramirez, a 47-year-old medical worker and Lightfoot supporter, said crime would continue to be a problem for Chicago, no matter who won the election.

“There’s not much a mayor can do about all these guns,” she said. “You’d have to be Superman to solve it.”

But many voters said they were unwilling to give Lightfoot another chance. Chicago mayors have wide-ranging powers, even compared with mayors in New York City and Los Angeles: They oversee the sprawling public transit system, police and fire Departments, schools, parks and other agencies. And when crime spikes or potholes go unfilled, Chicagoans tend to blame their mayor.

Lightfoot, 60, faced a cascade of crises since taking office that went beyond public safety. In 2019, she clashed with the powerful teachers union, leading to an 11-day strike, the longest in decades. Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit, sending unemployment soaring and leaving skyscrapers in the Loop mostly empty of workers and Chicago businesses struggling to survive.

The economy has since rebounded, and downtown Chicago is attracting tourists and conventions again. But Lightfoot appeared to have made more enemies than friends as mayor, struggled to find support on the City Council and gained a reputation as a pugilistic and mercurial leader.

Vallas, 69, enters the next stage of the race as the clear front-runner, but a candidate who has at times been dogged by ideological inconsistencies. He said in a television interview in 2009 that he considered himself more of a Republican than a Democrat, a strike against Vallas in the eyes of many voters in overwhelmingly liberal Chicago. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that Vallas’ Twitter account had liked a series of tweets that used insulting and racist language; Vallas suggested that hackers were to blame.

Jesús García, a congressman and well-known figure in Chicago, ran a tepid campaign that failed to attract sizable support from progressives.

Some voters remained unsure of who to back even as they approached the polls Tuesday, but were confident of one thing: They were not willing to support Lightfoot.

Jimmy Cooks, 66, who voted for her in the last election, said he would not do so again because of what he saw as her unsteady handling of both the pandemic and crime.

Cooks, a retired Comcast contractor, said he was against seasoned politicians like Lightfoot, Vallas and García.

“We need new blood, new ideas,” he said, adding that he “likes the look” of Johnson.

“Whoever wins is going to have a tough job,” he said.

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