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Little fanfare among some black voters over historic mayor’s race

Election signs promote Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle on the South Side along Halsted Street. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

Lori Lightfoot supporter Robert Allen said it was time for change.

Toni Preckwinkle supporter Mary Brown said she prefers experience.

The two were among voters talking about the historic mayoral election between two black women as they left polls in the South Side Englewood neighborhood.

“What I like about Lori Lightfoot is she said something like what [President Barack] Obama said when he was running. He talked about hope and the need for change,” said Phyllis Bynum, 77. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times
“What I like about Lori Lightfoot is she said something like what [President Barack] Obama said when he was running. He talked about hope and the need for change,” said Phyllis Bynum, 77. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“I voted for Lightfoot because I’m looking for like, new leadership. I’m tired of the same ‘ole thing,” said Allen, 48. “I know we don’t know how she’s gonna do, but you never know until you put new people in there.”“I voted for Preckwinkle because she has a lot of experience,” countered Brown, 65. “I think a lot of people are looking at voting for Lightfoot because of change, but I prefer experience, someone who knows how things work.”

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The Salvation Army Community Center, at 950 W. 69th St., had steady traffic from 8 to 9 a.m., but turnout was light between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., one or two people trickling in every 15 minutes.

Jay Richard, 41, voted for Lightfoot. “Besides Preckwinkle charging everybody a pop tax, we all know we need change. We just need to try something different,” he said. “The sad part, though, is that these politicians are everywhere right now, but you’ll never see them after election time.”

“I like both of them, but I voted for Lightfoot. I looked at all of the debates because I couldn’t decide who to vote for,” said Phyllis Bynum, 77. “What I like about Lightfoot is she said something like what [President Barack] Obama said when he was running. He talked about hope and the need for change. But also, I was scared of Preckwinkle because she put that tax on the soda. We’re gonna give Lori a chance.”

Staff at the community center speculated the low turnout during the day was because many in the neighborhood already had cast ballots; the center was an early-voting site, and traffic had been steady and heavy all week, they said.

Voters we polled — that admitted who they voted for — were choosing Lightfoot by 3-1. Almost always, the word they used was “change.” And just as often came references to the since-repealed sweetened beverage tax Preckwinkle had helped push through the Cook County Board.

Among those voting for Preckwinkle, almost always, the word they used was “experience.”

“I admire both of them, and hopefully, the best candidate will win. But I voted for Preckwinkle, because she was a former teacher and she’s spent many years in government,” offered Alice Daws, 78. “I just think she’s smart, and she’ll be better able to do all that needs to be done.”

But not everyone was happy with the mayoral choices.

“To be really honest with you, I had to choose between the lesser of the two evils. I didn’t want to vote for either one,” said Jennifer Mason, 38, with her nephew. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times
“To be really honest with you, I had to choose between the lesser of the two evils. I didn’t want to vote for either one,” said Jennifer Mason, 38, with her nephew. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times

“To be really honest with you, I had to choose between the lesser of the two evils. I didn’t want to vote for either one,” said Jennifer Mason, 38. “I went ahead and voted for Lightfoot because I think Preckwinkle has passed too many taxes — water tax, bag tax, soda tax. It’s just ridiculous.”

In the Feb. 26 election, Willie Wilson had been the winner in this ward — Ward 16 — followed by Preckwinkle. Far behind had been William Daley, then Lightfoot.

After endorsing Lightfoot, Wilson had urged his constituency to give her their vote.

“I voted for Willie Wilson in the first election because what’s wrong with the world today is they have taken God out of it,” a 62-year-old voter who would only identify herself as Ms. Mason. “So I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think neither one of them is qualified,” she said.

“I’m not going to tell you who I voted for. I just knew I had to vote for somebody because too many people died for the right for me to vote,” she added.

Interestingly, despite the historic nature of the contest that would usher in the first black woman mayor, there seemed to be little excitement. At this polling place, black voters seemed almost subdued, weary of having to choose.

“I had to do eenie-meenie-miney-mo between them, because I just didn’t know,” said Ted Washington, 55. “I just closed my eyes and chose. I’ve heard some of their speeches, but I’m not sure I really know the differences between them.”

Those who did know the differences, however, were very clear.

“I’m going with Toni because she helped out on the Laquan McDonald case,” said Michael Haynes, 33. “If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have seen any video, any police reports. She stepped up, so I feel like she deserves my vote.”

“I’m going with Toni Preckwinkle because she helped out on the Laquan McDonald case. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have seen any video, any police reports. She stepped up, so I feel like she deserves my vote,” said Michael Haynes, 33. | Maudlyne Iheji
“I’m going with Toni Preckwinkle because she helped out on the Laquan McDonald case. If it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t have seen any video, any police reports. She stepped up, so I feel like she deserves my vote,” said Michael Haynes, 33. | Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times