Mayor Lori Lightfoot was in a fight she couldn’t have won

With eight challengers vying for her seat, Lightfoot fought hard to stay in an elite club.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to the media outside Manny’s Deli in the West Loop on Election Day on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to the media outside Manny’s Deli in the West Loop on Election Day on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A lot happened in four years.

Lori Lightfoot was virtually unknown to most voters four years ago, while her challenger, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, was, and still is, an iconic political figure.

When history is being made, you can’t help but feel a certain amount of pride. So the fact this Black and openly gay woman won the mayoral race in 2019 seemed almost magical.

Lightfoot needed the majority of Black voters who showed up at the polls to cast a ballot for her in Tuesday’s race. But with so many Black challengers in the race, that wouldn’t happen. A low voter turnout didn’t help.

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But the results of Tuesday’s election also showed us how difficult it is to bring about change.

Take crime, for instance.

Did anyone expect Lightfoot to end the city’s crime problem in four years?

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was elected six times and had numerous police superintendents. But in some South and West Side neighborhoods, some residents were afraid to sit on front porches, the same as today.

And while many of us like to think of ourselves as progressive, that’s not the case.

When it comes to politics, we are stuck in a pattern that often puts personal desires above the greater good.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not trying to crush anyone’s ambitions.

But does it make sense to ditch a sitting mayor when the resources that would benefit those you claim to be concerned about are finally starting to flow?

It all boiled down to the numbers.

With five Black males, one white male, one Latino male and another Black woman trying to unseat Lightfoot, it is clear the progress that brought together a coalition to elect Harold Washington as the city’s first Black mayor in 1983 has been abandoned.

As a political novice, Lightfoot needed a level of support she didn’t have or even know she needed.

Indeed, Lightfoot was getting into battles with City Council members that sometimes resembled the infamous “Council Wars.”

Instead of seeing a renewal of Black political power in the halls of city government, we witnessed the renewal of fractured Black politics.

Like Lightfoot’s predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s first term was a whirlwind of challenges. From the COVID-19 pandemic to an embarrassing police scandal, Lightfoot aggressively dealt with these problems in ways that infuriated her critics. Yet her male predecessors pushed through their agendas with an iron fist.

I’ve heard from voters who accuse her of not keeping her campaign promises and from those who claim she’s “hard to get along with.”

But should politics be a popularity contest?

What I didn’t hear from these critics was their appreciation of Lightfoot’s investment of city resources in long-neglected Black and Brown neighborhoods.

When she was elected mayor, Lightfoot joined an elite club of women.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, seven Black women were serving as mayors of the nation’s largest 100 cities at the time.

If Lightfoot had made it into the runoff, she would have broken the one-term curse that afflicted another female Chicago mayor, the late Jane Byrne.

In 1979, Byrne became the first woman to serve as mayor of Chicago after pulling off an upset. Ironically, Byrne created the city’s first city-recognized Gay Pride Parade Day.

As the incumbent, and someone who brought fundamental change to the mayor’s office, Lightfoot should have gotten a second term.

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