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Lightfoot picks up crucial 19th Ward support: O’Shea dubs her ‘straight-shooter’

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, left, in February. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times; Ald. Matt O'Shea, right, in 2012. Sun-Times File Photo.

Lori Lightfoot’s effort to expand her base beyond the North Side and north lakefront into white ethnic neighborhoods dominated by police officers and firefighters took a giant step forward Thursday with the endorsement of 19th Ward Committeeman Matt O’Shea.

On Feb. 26, the 19th Ward led the city with a 55.8 percent turnout that was 20 percentage points higher than the city at large. Mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce came roaring out of that ward — where he lives — with 9,098 votes. Bill Daley was a distant second with 2,087 votes. Lightfoot finished fourth with 1,702 votes, just ahead of Toni Preckwinkle at 1,629.

Now Ald. O’Shea is endorsing Lightfoot, setting the stage for Joyce to do the same. Sources said Joyce already has met privately with Lightfoot.

“I appreciated her candor. She’s a straight-shooter. … It’s a new perspective. It’s positive change. It’s more transparent. That’s what I’m hearing from my community and across the city,” said O’Shea, who had a lengthy meeting with Lightfoot on Tuesday.

RELATED: Gery Chico joins Vallas in endorsing Lightfoot

“I love her strength in attacking this corruption issue we have. I like her experience as a former federal prosecutor. Her no-nonsense style. It’s sorely needed. I talked to many people in law enforcement — at the federal and local level — who’ve had working relationships with her going back many years who have told me that’s who Lori is.”

Lightfoot praised O’Shea as an “effective and strong advocate” for his Southwest Side residents and said she’s “pleased to add him to our broad and diverse coalition of support.”

Four years ago, O’Shea played a key role in helping Mayor Rahm Emanuel survive Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff.

Ald. Matthew J. O’Shea, who’s also the 19th Ward committeeman, meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in January. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Ald. Matthew J. O’Shea, who’s also the 19th Ward committeeman, meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in January. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Between the first and second rounds of that mayoral sweepstakes, Emanuel boosted his support among white voters by 11.25 percentage points.

The increase was fueled by Emanuel’s showing in O’Shea’s 19th Ward, where Michael Joyce, another son of Democratic power broker Jeremiah Joyce, worked for vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

With O’Shea’s formidable support, Emanuel got 59 percent of the 19,828 total votes cast in the 19th Ward.

In that 2015 runoff, O’Shea’s ward had a 56 percent turnout — well above the citywide 40 percent. Emanuel carried 56 of 57 precincts.

On Thursday, O’Shea said he plans to do for Lightfoot what he did for Emanuel in 2015 and for Joyce on Feb. 26, which denied Daley a spot in the runoff.

Never mind that the Fraternal Order of Police blamed Lightfoot for co-chairing the Task Force on Police Accountability whose scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department set the stage for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same.,

“Some of our police officers — with good reason in many cases — feel like they’re not supported. … They’re gonna look at the two candidates and identify that Lori Lightfoot does want to get to the root of the problem with gun violence and work with police. I’m confident law enforcement as a whole in my community will be supportive of her candidacy,” O’Shea said.

“I talked to Lori about how do we work better with the police? How do we help bridge that divide that we have in some communities with the Chicago Police Department. I came away from that [believing] that Lori Lightfoot is very supportive of the Chicago Police Department.”

The O’Shea endorsement could be a game changer, according to David Axelrod, the former Obama presidential adviser now serving as the director and co-founder of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.

“She’s already dominant on the lakefront. She’s competitive for African-American votes. The great question has been where will these white ethnic voters — Northwest, Southwest — go and where will Hispanic voters go and how big will they play?” Axelrod said Thursday, on the same day that Gery Chico endorsed Lightfoot.

“There is no machine. There are just spare parts. But the 19th Ward is still a ward … where organization matters. The vote that comes out of there will be a large vote. … It’s obviously a big deal if she can command some of the endorsements that open up the door and send signals to voters in those Northwest and Southwest Side wards.”

Last week, Lightfoot capped a triumphant week that started with the Chicago Federation of Labor choosing to remain neutral and continued with the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 and two Northwest Side aldermen, who are former firefighters, endorsing Lightfoot.

The week ended with the coveted endorsement of former rival Willie Wilson, who could help Lightfoot boost her standing among African-American voters.

Wilson won 58,831 votes and captured thirteen African-American wards on the city’s South and West Sides on Feb. 26. He chose Lightfoot after a heavy courtship by both candidates.

“It was true from the moment the first round ended that Toni Preckwinkle had a very big hill to climb. There’s a strong sense out there that Lori is a kind of commanding position in the race. And success begets success. It turns the hill into a mountain,” Axelrod said.

“Barring something very unforeseen, she is at this point, a prohibitive favorite.”