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Mayoral candidates Susana Mendoza, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, in separate appearances in the Chicago Sun-Times newsroom. | Photos by Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Women in the mayor’s race don’t need trash talk to win

SHARE Women in the mayor’s race don’t need trash talk to win
SHARE Women in the mayor’s race don’t need trash talk to win

As I write this, six women are running for mayor in 2019. All women of color. Two — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza — are the front-runners among the throng in February’s contest, recent polls show.

That’s historic good news to celebrate in the New Year. In the era of #MeToo, and with massive gains for women in the 2018 midterm elections, it’s our time.

But there’s always a danger women will try to out-guy the guys. American politics is an exercise in machismo, a testosterone-fueled game. As women rise to battle, they may be tempted to emulate that culture, for better or worse.

OPINION

Too many male politicians rely on mud-slinging, invective, and rhetorical fisticuffs to get ahead. Exhibit A: The nasty, hateful attack-driven 2016 GOP presidential primaries, gleefully led by Donald J. Trump.

In Chicago, there are warning sides ahead.

In an October speech to the City Club of Chicago, candidate Lori Lightfoot responded to rumors that Preckwinkle was trying to muscle her out of the mayoral race. Lightfoot blasted Preckwinkle as a “bully.”

Lightfoot also labeled Preckwinkle, the first woman to head the Cook County Democratic Party, as “Boss Preckwinkle.” Later, Lightfoot piled on, saying Preckwinkle deserves a “bag of coal” for challenging the petitions of five women of color.

Mendoza has also chimed in on the “bully” chorus. And Mendoza, 46, has repeatedly implied Preckwinkle, 71, would be a “caretaker mayor.”

Behind the scenes, reporters are hearing tons more trash-talking from campaign consultants and mouthpieces.

Will the women continue down the low road that men have paved in politics?

During a mayoral forum in the 2011 campaign, Carol Moseley Braun, the former U.S. senator and ambassador, spat out that Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins, a competitor and another African-American woman, was “strung out on crack.” (Watkins said she had struggled with addiction in her youth, but had been clean for decades).

That ugly moment helped torpedo Braun’s campaign.

“So what?” you ask. Chicago is a brawling political town with tough challenges ahead. What’s wrong with some tough talk?

Indeed, these women are tough, and they don’t need to tell you that. The 2019 mayoral contest will be extremely competitive, with many accomplished women in the hunt. Women who have run major government agencies, served as influential legislators, led grassroots campaigns.

Women who can bring a new spirit to our political culture. Women who can be different.

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans say that “women are better than men when it comes to being compassionate and empathetic.”

In addition, “substantial shares say women are better at working out compromises and standing up for what they believe in,” shows the survey released in September.

“Similarly, more adults say female political leaders do a better job of serving as role models for children (41 percent) and maintaining a tone of civility and respect (34 percent) than say the same about men,” Pew reports.

The women in this race can deliver on those expectations.

Trade the iron hammer for a silky glove. Focus on policy, not personality. Show voters that the gentler sex can campaign with respect and intellectual integrity.

You don’t have to wallow in the mud to win.

Send letters to letters@sun-times.com

Follow Laura S. Washington onTwitter@MediaDervish

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