Ray Lopez running for mayor; City Council critic to give up seat to challenge Lightfoot
“Our residents do not feel safe. People who work here don’t feel safe,” Lopez told the Sun-Times. “We have to right this ship now.”
With a promise to “save Chicago” from violent crime, fire Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and restore trust with “demoralized” police officers, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said Wednesday he’s giving up a safe City Council seat to run for mayor against his nemesis, incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Lopez has spent the last three years doing battle with Lightfoot at almost every turn — from her refusal to call out the National Guard after two devastating rounds of looting and unrelenting gang violence to city spending and her contentious relationship with the City Council.
On Wednesday, Lopez became the first candidate to formally enter the race to force Chicago’s first Black female and openly gay mayor into political retirement after just one term.
Lopez, who’s also gay, said he’s prepared to put it all on the line because Chicago is literally at a crossroads under a combative mayor who, he claims, “doesn’t know how to lead,” inspire or collaborate.
“Our residents do not feel safe. People who work here don’t feel safe. Visitors and tourism is on the decline because they see the perception of Chicago being the Wild West of the Midwest. We must correct that and we must do it now. We can’t have continued stories of smash-and-grabs, carjackings, lootings and 12-year-olds doing crime in Chicago and act like that’s normal,” Lopez told the Sun-Times before his official announcement at The Plant, 1400 W. 46th St., in his Southwest Side ward.
“I have taken on gangs and the magnets of violence head-on in my communities. I have worked with local police to inspire men and women who put on that uniform to do the right thing every day and to build those relationships with our community. And that is something that can be replicated throughout Chicago in a sustained way that will return safety to our neighborhoods. We have to right this ship now.”
Lopez said he would start by firing Brown.
He argued that the retired Dallas police chief “does not understand Chicago neighborhoods” or the needs of rank-and-file officers he was hired to lead and has “no plan” to restore public safety. Instead, he appears to reverse field based on the latest crime or headline.
“As mayor, Superintendent Brown would be the first to go. He has been a failure,” Lopez said, to applause, vowing to find the new superintendent from within the CPD ranks.
“This is the same superintendent who thought it was wise to dismantle the gang tactical units, only to try and reinstitute them after he realized that shootings and other stats were skyrocketing.”
Lopez also vowed to “stop the exodus” of Chicago Police officers retiring faster than the city can hire replacements.
“So many are looking for the exit ramp — even without securing a pension. They no longer feel supported. They need to know that the mayor has their back when they do the right things. It’s pretty clear from her history that she does not support them in anything they do — even when they do things correctly,” Lopez said.
“We have to stop the exodus. … If that means we have to look at longevity bonuses for their careers or if we have to put issues of residency on the table for discussion, then so be it. There should be nothing off-limits when it comes to re-imagining a 21st century city of Chicago workforce.”
No sitting City Council member has been elected mayor of Chicago in at least 125 years. Two sitting members — Michael Bilandic, and Eugene Sawyer — were chosen by the council as acting mayors after the deaths of mayors Richard J. Daley and Harold Washington. Bilandic, as acting mayor, won a special election in 1977 to serve out Daley’s term but lost in 1979 to Jane Byrne. Sawyer lost a special mayoral election to Richard M. Daley in 1989.
Lopez is likely to face even longer odds.
A former skycap for Southwest Airlines, he is not a household name outside his ward, which includes Brighton Park, Gage Park, New City, West Englewood and Back of the Yards.
Nor has Lopez demonstrated the ability to raise millions of dollars in what is expected to be a multi-candidate race.
What Lopez does have is a track record of standing up to both Lightfoot and to the violent street gangs who terrorize his constituents. His home and his ward office have been repeatedly targeted by vandals apparently determined to send him a message.
“I’m a man of conviction. I’m a man who stands up for what he believes in — even when it’s unpopular. Even when it’s unsafe. That’s the kind of mayor Chicago needs right now. Someone who’s willing to stand up for something. Not a panderer,” he said.
Lopez accused Lightfoot of using the avalanche of federal COVID-19 relief money to engineer a never-ending parade of giveaways — including guaranteed minimum income checks, gas cards, Ventra cards, free bicycles and security cameras.
“She’s grasping at straws at the eleventh hour trying to save her political life,” Lopez said, accusing Lightfoot of failing to consult a council with whom she has had a contentious relationship since Day One.
Lopez said his polling shows he has “a path” to victory.
“I’m very glad that I’m not the incumbent because my numbers are a whole lot better than hers,” he said. “They show that, overwhelmingly, the city of Chicago has made a decision on her tenure and they are definitely looking for someone new. A new direction.”
Lopez’s political backbone was on display during the civil unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd that devolved into two devastating rounds of looting in the summer of 2020.
Lightfoot unleashed a profanity-laced tirade against Lopez when he dared accuse her of being caught flat-footed after the first round of looting that spread into South and West Side neighborhoods after downtown was belatedly sealed off.
At the time, Lightfoot further accused Lopez of “illegally” taping her May 31, 2020 phone call with council members upset about looting and mayhem in their wards and “leaking” the part that included a profane exchange between them.
One year later, Lightfoot accused her political nemesis — indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th) — of being the heavy hand behind Lopez’s call for a special City Council meeting on violent crime and “create chaos.”
“This is political shenanigans and you can figure out who’s behind it. Burger King Ed is still alive and well,” the mayor said then.
On Wednesday, Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader, took a similar tack in responding for the Lightfoot campaign.
In a statement, Cardenas argued the “close partnership” between Lopez and Burke “should alarm Chicagoans who have yearned for a city government free of corruption and back room deals.”
Cardenas further argued Lopez “has a sorry track record of voting against policies to improve Chicagoans lives, against efforts to reform our city government, against efforts to improve equity, and against efforts to pave the way for Chicagoans to live safer lives in the midst of a global health crisis.”
Lopez countered that Lightfoot has been “trying to tie me to the Ed Burke boogeyman to deflect from her inadequacies for three years,” but she has “yet to be successful.”
“I’m my own man. And to be perfectly honest, it’s insulting to hear from her that someone like me can’t think on my own. Can’t be an alderman on my own,” he said.
“That someone who has said that she has faced the adversities of racism and discrimination her whole life to become who she is, where she is today to perpetrate the same things on other people is despicable.”