At final rally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot revs up crucial backers: Black women

Lori Lightfoot ran a longshot race in 2019. This time round, the stakes are higher, and her support from Black women is crucial for her re-election to a second term.

SHARE At final rally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot revs up crucial backers: Black women
Lightfoot campaign manager Valerie Martin: “Black women are fundamentally the mayor’s core base. They have stood with her. They have seen all the work that she’s done in their communities and we know they are coming out to vote.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot poses with supporters Saturday at a rally at a union hall. “Black women are fundamentally the mayor’s core base,” campaign manager Valerie Martin said.

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

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During the final days of her 2019 shoe-string campaign, Mayor Lori Lightfoot just wanted to “finish respectably,” with no idea that her longshot bid would eventually land her on the fifth floor of City Hall.

“I literally had no idea what was going to happen,” Lightfoot told me Saturday.

She recalled her first run for mayor when we talked a few minutes after the wrap of the final rally of her bid for a second term. It was a rollicking event where Black women — whose votes are crucial for Lightfoot’s re-election — flexed their collective political muscles, at times to the beat of the Drum Divas, an all-female African drummer group.

The stakes are much higher for Lightfoot in 2023 compared with 2019. She made Chicago history when sworn-in as the first Black female mayor and the only openly LGBTQ one in the city’s history.

Lightfoot faces the potential of an outright defeat on Tuesday or being forced into an April runoff. If no one gets more than 50 percent, which in the nine-person field is highly likely, the top two face off April 4.

“All the people who think that they can do my job better than me are using me as a piñata,” Lightfoot said.

If Lightfoot has any chance of survival, she will need massive support not just from Black voters in general, but Black female voters in particular and that’s who filled the room and spoke at the Women for Lori rally in the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 headquarters at 2260 S. Grove St.

Of the nine mayoral candidates, seven are men. Another Black woman in the contest, Ald. Sophia King (4th) never made it to the top tier, which now consists of four: Lightfoot; Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia; former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas; and Brandon Johnson, a paid Chicago Teachers Union organizer and a Cook County Board member.

Black females are among the bedrocks of the Democratic Party, with power and influence beyond their numbers because they turn out to vote.

It was no surprise, when in 2020 Joe Biden, struggling to keep his primary bid alive, made a promise in advance of the election in South Carolina, with a heavy number of Black voters. He said if elected, his first Supreme Court pick would be a Black woman.

Last year, he made good on the pledge, swearing in Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black female justice. Looking on at the event at the White House was Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to be vice president.

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Perri Irmer, president and chief executive of the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center and Mayor Lori Lightfoot at her final campaign rally. Irmer said of the mayor: “She doesn’t have to do this. She is doing this for us, for all of Chicago.”

Lynn Sweet/Sun-Times

Perri Irmer, the president and CEO of the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, and the emcee of the rally, told the crowd that she and Lightfoot were students together at the University of Chicago Law School.

“Don’t tell me she’s not fighting for us,” Irmer said. “… She doesn’t have to do this. She is doing this for us, for all of Chicago.”

Next up was Ald. Michelle Harris (8th). “Don’t let other people define who the mayor is for us,” Harris said to cheers.

Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin was explicit about moving goal posts.

“Ladies, when we get in the game, the rules change. The truth is this city has been broken for decades. Decades of disinvestment. Decades of brokenness. Decades of debt. Now, what’s being asked of this woman has not been asked of any man.”

Lightfoot campaign manager Valerie Martin was at the rally, and I asked her about the importance of the Black female vote for the mayor’s reelection.

Said Martin, “Black women are fundamentally the mayor’s core base. They have stood with her. They have seen all the work that she’s done in their communities, and we know they are coming out to vote.”

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