Lightfoot, Preckwinkle hit the airwaves with first runoff commercials

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Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle, shown at their election night parties on Feb. 26. | Sun-Times photos

With no time to waste in a five-week sprint to the finish line, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle hit the airwaves Friday with their first new television commercials of the runoff campaign.

Lightfoot struck a familiar chord: “We need change.” Preckwinkle tried to sully her opponent’s reputation as a change agent.

“Lori Lightfoot talks a big game, but what’s her real story? A wealthy corporate lawyer, Lightfoot was reprimanded for professional misconduct. She defended a Wall Street bank being sued for racial discrimination and worked for Republican politicians trying to protect her power,” an announcer says as video shows headlines of negative stories about Lightfoot and unflattering photos of her.

“And after using her influence trying to gain a powerful appointment, she overruled investigators to justify police shootings. Turns out the only thing Lori Lightfoot’s trying to change is her own story.”

Preckwinkle has been on the air since Tuesday with the feel-good commercial she used to close her campaign ahead of the election Feb. 26. It portrays her not as a party boss but someone who “beat the machine” and as a candidate with the guts to fight for what’s right because she always has. The new, 30-second spot is her first for the runoff and the first negative spot against Lightfoot.

Lightfoot’s 30-second spot intersperses footage of Lightfoot walking down the street, greeting voters on CTA trains and in an elevator with clips of Chicago neighborhoods and with Lightfoot’s triumphant speech on Tuesday night.

That’s when she celebrated her stunning first-place finish and claimed her spot in the historic runoff April 2 against Toni Preckwinkle that will leave Chicago with an African-American woman as mayor for the first time in the city’s history.

“I traveled across the city and saw people struggling with repossessed cars and rising rents. With underfunded neighborhood schools and gun violence on their blocks,” Lightfoot says in the ad.

“I know on a deeply personal level that we need change. This election is about demanding an independent, accountable City Hall that serves the people — not the machine.”

The commercial is slated for an “initial buy” of $117,000 through Monday on commercial and cable television stations, but that could be a mere downpayment.

It’s Lightfoot’s attempt to define herself before Preckwinkle can define her.

Lightfoot raised $1.64 million ahead of the vote Feb. 26 and had $730,940 left to spend on the runoff. But she raised over $110,000 from “unsolicited donations” to her website on the day after her first-place finish.

Her decision to emphasize change in her first commercial of the runoff campaign is not a surprise.

Lightfoot came seemingly out of nowhere to finish ahead of Preckwinkle and deep-pockets candidate Bill Daley by portraying herself as a change agent in a change election dominated by one of the biggest City Hall corruption scandals Chicago has ever seen.

On Jan. 3, Preckwinkle was dragged into that scandal. Ald. Edward Burke (14th) was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly shaking down a Burger King franchise owners for legal business and for a $10,000 campaign contribution to Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle reported the contribution, only after Burke was charged. She has since returned all $116,000 she raised during a January 2018 fundraiser that Burke held at his home for her re-election campaign as county board president. As chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, Preckwinkle has also stripped Burke of the position he long held as head of judicial slatemaking.

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