Will influential LGBTQ group back mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot?
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For the first time in history, an openly LGBTQ candidate is running for mayor of Chicago.
Will the political arm of the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights group embrace one of their own?
The competition for Chicago’s LGBTQ vote is fierce. That’s why dozens of politicians donned their tuxedos and gold lamé for Saturday night’s sold-out Equality Illinois fundraiser.
More than 1,500 guests and 50 elected officials packed the Hilton Chicago ballroom. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was a featured speaker.
A highlight of the swanky affair is the parade of politicians who strut across the stage under glittering lights to wave, blow kisses and show their love for the LGBTQ vote.
The Chicago Department of Public Health reports that 146,000 LGBTQ adults live in Chicago — 7.5 percent of the city’s adult population.
After the lights go off, the Equality Illinois Political Action Committee will consider an endorsement in the 2019 mayoral race.
The endorsement is a high-profile stamp of approval in the community.
The PAC board will meet in early February, said Mike Ziri, director of public policy at Equality Illinois. They will consider the candidates’ responses to a questionnaire on LGBTQ issues and their “past record of what have you done in office, how have you taken a stand in the community,” he said.
Many of the 14 mayoral aspirants offer solid track records. One, Lori Lightfoot, is a lesbian, prominent attorney and former Chicago Police Board president.
In 2011 and 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel handily won the PAC endorsement. In 2015, the PAC cited Emanuel’s support for same-sex marriage and his efforts to secure funding for affordable housing, and enhance access to health care and other services for LGBTQ people.
Insurgent challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia made an aggressive pitch, touting his record as a gay rights champion since his City Council days in the 1980s. Back then, a rare and dicey stance for a Latino politician.
But the Equality Illinois PAC went with Emanuel in the first electoral round, before Garcia pushed the mayor into a runoff.
Last December, the PAC endorsed all five of Chicago’s openly LGBTQ aldermen. “Their leadership demonstrates to us that representation matters at all levels of government,” John Litchfield, chair of the Equality Illinois PAC said in a press release.
And the top job at City Hall?
The Equality Illinois PAC “may endorse multiple candidates, one candidate, or no candidate,” Ziri wrote in an email.
The PAC could help make history. Lightfoot talks often on the stump about her sexual orientation and how it influences her passion for social justice. She touts endorsements from LPAC and the Victory Fund, national organizations that support LGBT candidates. She was the first mayoral candidate to release a policy platform in LGBTQ issues, according to her campaign. And she pledges, “the LGBTQ+ community will always be a priority for my administration.”
Challenges lie ahead. The Trump administration has attacked LGBTQ rights and banned transgender people from serving in the military. Anti-gay hate crimes are still far too common, like last week’s attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago.
Some political players are reluctant to endorse until they see the lineup for the April 2 mayoral runoff. The race is too crowded, they calculate. Why alienate the next mayor by backing the wrong horse?
Ziri can’t say when the board will decide.
Will the Equality Illinois PAC step hard on the gas, or give Lori the lightfoot?
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