Now that we’ve wrapped our brains around the reality that Chicago elected a mayor who is black, female and gay, there’s more to celebrate.
As a friend pointed out, for the first time in the city’s history, black women will hold the top political offices in the city and county: Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and city Treasurer-elect Melissa Conyears-Ervin.
“That’s really historical,” she said.
When Harold Washington was elected mayor in 1983, George Dunne was Cook County Board president, Richard M. Daley was state’s attorney, and Cecil A. Partee was city treasurer.
Former Ald. Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor, said add City Clerk Anna M. Valencia, a Latina, to the mix, and “it is an all-female executive team in city government made up of minority females. There’s not another city in America that has all of that. Some have women. Some have minorities and minority women. I don’t know of any city that has minority women across the board like this.”
It’s more than coincidence, Simpson said. “This has been sort of the year of the women since 2018,” he said. “In this particular race, all of these minority women are very qualified for the offices they hold.”
So we’ve come a long, long way.
But forgive me for being a bit cynical. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s election is historic for another reason, too: Of the 1,592,658 registered voters in Chicago, only 507,524 of them cast a ballot — a 31.8 percent turnout.
Though this barrier-smashing election is being compared to the 1983 election that gave the city Washington as its first black mayor, consider that voter turnout that year was 77.49 percent, with more than 1.2 million Chicagoans going to the polls.
Several factors might have limited turnout this time, according to Simpson: “Both were African-American women, and they both were progressives. There could have been people who decided not to vote for black women or not vote for black women with a progressive platform.”
Another factor: Pre-election polls were showing Lightfoot winning by a huge margin, Simpson said.
“It looked like a runaway election that Lori was going to win,” he said, so voters “could feel it was a foregone conclusion.”
Also, only 15 of the city’s 50 wards had runoffs, so there was “nothing to draw voters to the polls,” Simpson said.
Most elections, my husband votes early. But this time he waited until Election Day. For him, this election was a toss-up. He actually took a coin out of his pocket and flipped it to decide.
So, with this many voters choosing to sit out the election, is this really a mandate? Definitely, according to Simpson.
“We think of elections as a landslide when they hit 60 percent or more” he said. “The fact that Lori Lightfoot got 74 percent and all 50 wards is legitimately a mandate to carry out the policies that she articulated.”
To their credit, these women hold the reins of power at a time when the city is facing tremendous challenges.
The day after smashing two entrenched barriers, Lightfoot was out thanking supporters and sizing up the task at hand.
“Honeymoons come and go, and I want to really breathe life into the historic nature of this election — with two African American women running, that is a huge change in our city, which we cannot underestimate,” she said.
That there is now a dream team of women leading the city gives me hope that fresh ideas will be put forth.
Even more important than that, these women can be role models for a population that desperately needs them. For black and brown girls to see women who look like them in leadership roles affirms that they, too, can reach the top.
Will this election erase the racial barriers that for too long have divided Chicago?
Of course not. But it is a start.
I’m in awe that we have arrived at this moment.
On Tuesday night, Chicago was talked about around the world for something other than some senseless killing or stupid crime.
We have these five women to thank for that.