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EDITORIAL: Finish the job, Chicago, and elect Lori Lightfoot for mayor

Mayoral office candidate Lori Lightfoot 2019 election RIch Hein

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

You started this thing and you can finish it.

Against the odds, you made Lori Lightfoot, a complete outsider to the corrupting Chicago Way, the leading candidate to be our city’s next mayor.

Now let’s get her over the finish line.

In the first round of this mayoral election, on Feb. 26, you voted for honest-to-God political reform. Not all of you, or even most — but enough of you.

You voted for an end to the insider’s game. You voted for a politics that puts ordinary people first, not corporations, unions or hedge-fund billionaires. You voted against a politics of self-dealing that is as old as the city itself, an endless Chicago Fire.

Two quality candidates, Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, will face off in the April 2 runoff. And though they argue over who’s the real “progressive,” which for once is a badge of honor, they are not far apart on the issues. They hold similar views on how to fix the city’s finances, reform police practices, curb violent crime and uplift hurting neighborhoods.

If you were to try to choose your candidate based only on that, you might figure it was a toss-up.

But this is no longer an election about public policy differences. Those concerns were sorted out in the first round, where candidates further to the right, such as Bill Daley, and further to the left, such as Amara Enyia, failed to make the runoff.

This election now is about one big thing: Upending Chicago’s corrupt political system.

And on that score, one candidate clearly most deserves your vote: Lori Lightfoot. We offered her our endorsement last month, and we reaffirm it today.

Lightfoot, as we have written before, is beholden to nobody but you. She came out on top in the first round of voting despite almost no support from big-name politicians and special interests. Candor and integrity were her precinct workers. A highly principled record of public service was her campaign war chest.

If now, in this second round, the special interests are lining up behind her, it’s not because they share her views or expect to buy influence. Nothing about Lightfoot says that will work. They’re afraid of being left behind.

Lightfoot’s campaign caught fire because Chicagoans have had enough. The politics of this town are dragging us down, and anybody can see it.

How could Chicago hope to lure to town a big company like Amazon when the news of the day was that the city’s most powerful alderman had been charged with attempted extortion? That was Ed Burke in December.

Since 1972, 29 aldermen have been convicted of crimes related to their jobs.

How can Chicagoans trust that their tax money is being well spent when the news of the day is that another alderman may have worked in cahoots with the most powerful local Democrat of them all, House Speaker Mike Madigan, to put the squeeze on a hotel developer? That was Danny Solis, as reported by the Sun-Times in January.

How can anybody believe that the mayor and City Council are equally committed to our city’s most downtrodden neighborhoods when, with a big assist from a custom called “aldermanic prerogative,” they’re so aggressively shoving ahead on a tax-subsidized sweet deal for developers on the comfortable North Side? That would be Lincoln Yards.

As Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) put it: “This is the rich getting richer and the North Side getting norther.”

The problem in this election for Preckwinkle, chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party, is that she is a compromised member of a compromised club.

She entered public life as a reformer, first as an alderman and now as Cook County Board president. She has improved the county health care system, reduced the jail population and made county government more efficient. But she has an overdeveloped instinct for the pragmatic — a willingness to forge dubious alliances in the service of getting things done.

Preckwinkle raked in $116,000 at a fundraiser at Burke’s home. Her administration hired Burke’s poorly qualified son to a county job that paid nearly $100,000 a year. Most objectionable, she consistently stood with Joe Berrios, the former Cook County assessor who spent his days hiring relatives and handing out property tax breaks to the rich and politically connected.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot was having none of it.

As a partner in a major law firm with a global reach, Lightfoot worked on two lawsuits to actually decrease the unfair advantage of the Democratic Party. The suits alleged, correctly, that the congressional map in Illinois was unfair to Republicans.

As deputy chief in City Hall’s procurement department, she gave Mayor Richard M. Daley grief by questioning contracts to the politically connected.

As head of special task force, she gave Mayor Rahm Emanuel grief by producing a scathing report on the Chicago Police Department.

This election is no longer about who’s the real progressive, a label that might scare off half the voters anyway. That’s a wash. It’s about who is most likely to put an end to the Democratic Party and City Hall’s culture of favoritism and self-enrichment by, among other basic reforms:

  • Ending aldermanic prerogative, the custom by which the entire City Council will defer to a single alderman on everything from affordable housing to the size of a store sign. It was aldermanic prerogative that made it possible for Burke to harass the owner of a Burger King restaurant who wanted to make renovations, which led to Burke’s indictment.
  • Giving the job of drawing aldermanic ward boundaries to an independent commission. As it works now, the aldermen draw the boundaries, like a contortionist’s trick, solely in the service of getting themselves re-elected.

On these two measures, long overdue, where do the candidates stand?

Preckwinkle is opposed. Lightfoot says let’s do it.

The old Chicago Way is holding a good town down. Are you as fed up as we are?

We again urge a vote for Lori Lightfoot and a new Chicago Way.

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