Can they bury the hatchet?
That was the question as I watched the two women who would be mayor trade sharp blows at Thursday’s WTTW-TV debate.
For weeks, I have cringed, again and again, as both impressive and accomplished women, Lori Lightfoot, the former Chicago Police Board president, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, tear each other down.
Instead of cringing, we should be celebrating them as they compete to become the first African-American woman mayor of Chicago.
Ironically, if Preckwinkle had not made her late mayoral entry after Rahm Emanuel’s exit, she would likely have supported Lightfoot for mayor.
But last fall, the relationship was poisoned by rumors that Preckwinkle was trying to muscle Lightfoot out of the race.
Then Preckwinkle upped the ante by attacking Lightfoot as the first election round ended the night of Feb. 26.
Tit for tat. Blow for blow.
They won’t even look each other at debates and forums. Each accuses the other of scurrilous deeds and evil associations.
Preckwinkle is an old-time party hack who cozies up to “a broken and corrupt political machine,” Lightfoot says.
Lightfoot was a “wealthy corporate lawyer” who made her fortune on the backs of the less fortunate, Preckwinkle retorts.
When the final election results are declared the night of April 2, Lightfoot must cease the accusations. Preckwinkle must stop the recriminations.
They share a vast array of common views and goals, agreeing on virtually every major issue that has emerged in this campaign.
They must make peace and work together. Chicago and Cook County face a massive pile of financial, economic and social challenges. There will be no time for harboring grudges and keeping lists.
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle can be each other’s best, most powerful ally.
The men did it, once upon a time.
When Mayor Harold Washington was elected Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983, most leading white politicians shunned him. Cook County Board President George Dunne reached out to Washington, and they built a potent alliance.
Mayor Richard M. Daley worked closely with Cook County Board President John Stroger, as well as Todd Stroger, John’s son and successor. You might not like everything they did, but together, they got stuff done.
The pols and pundits predict Lightfoot will prevail on April 2.
Three years ago, she was little known outside police and criminal justice circles. Her brilliance, moxie and dedication catapulted her from the back of the pack to front runner.
If Lightfoot wins, she will come to City Hall as an outsider who must build lasting alliances and cut deals with elected officials and community leaders from different demographics and political persuasions.
She should start with the other most powerful woman in Chicago.
Preckwinkle isn’t going anywhere. She will continue her third term as Cook County Board president. She is the first woman boss of the Cook County Democratic Party. She knows her way around the political and governmental landscape.
If Preckwinkle wins, she will need to rebuild trust with voters leery of her ties to the ongoing City Hall corruption scandal and her ill-fated soda tax. Lightfoot’s role as a change agent could give Preckwinkle a big lift.
Both women pledge to bring resources, compassion and justice to the city’s disenfranchised communities. Both know their needs first hand. Both have lived it.
All that clout for change in the hands of two black women. It’s power Chicago can’t afford to waste.