Handful of West Side alderpersons to stand with Lightfoot as she launches reelection bid Wednesday
Black Caucus Chair Jason Ervin (28th), Emma Mitts (37th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th) will be on hand for the mayor’s announcement.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is expected to launch her reelection bid on Wednesday with a handful of Black West Side alderpersons at her side, underscoring deep divisions among African-American elected officials.
Black Caucus Chair Jason Ervin (28th), Lightfoot’s handpicked chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity, said Friday he has agreed to stand with the mayor at 2 p.m. Wednesday tentatively at a campaign kickoff tentatively scheduled to be held at Revolution Workshop, 3410 W. Lake St.
Two other members of the mayor’s leadership team — License Committee Chair Emma Mitts (37th) and Public Safety Committee Chair Chris Taliaferro (29th) — told the Sun-Times they, too, will stand with Lightfoot.
Retiring Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), whose resignation took effect Friday, has declined the mayor’s invitation but refused to say why.
Wednesday will be Scott’s third day on the job as director of industry and community relations for Cinespace Studios.
Scott may also be waiting to see whether Lightfoot follows through on his recommendation to appoint a member of his 24th Ward Regular Democratic Organization — and possibly a member of his own family — to serve out the remainder of his term and get a leg up on the next election.
The retiring alderperson was deeply disappointed when Lightfoot chose Rosa Escareno to replace fired Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly instead of conducting a nationwide search that would have allowed Scott to pursue what he calls his “dream job.”
No matter how many alderpersons stand with Lightfoot, it will be fewer than half of the 20 African-Americans now serving in the City Council.
Many of the South Siders are expected to support one of their own: Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) or Ald. Sophia King (4th), who is mulling a mayoral campaign of her own.
Two other African-American candidates — state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson — have also declared their candidacies for mayor.
Lightfoot’s formal entry into the race will make it four Black candidates in a field that also includes former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).
Elected acting mayor after the death of Mayor Harold Washington, Sawyer’s father, Eugene Sawyer, was denied election to a term of his own when the African-American vote divided between Sawyer and then-Ald. Tim Evans (4th), paving the way for the 1989 election of Richard M. Daley.
With at least four Black candidates competing for African-American votes diminished by population losses, there is a danger of repeating history — even after the switch to a nonpartisan mayoral election with a runoff between the top two vote-getters if no one gets 50% of the first vote.
“We’ve seen history. We’ve seen what happens when we get a bunch of people in a race. I think we have learned from that history,” Ervin said Friday.
“While people continue to get in, I think it makes sense for us to support the individual that is there.”
Sawyer advised African-American voters not to “panic” about a repeat of the divisions that set the stage for his father’s defeat.
“Back in the ’80s, one of the driving forces in that election was race. This one, there are a lot of different issues. I don’t think race is a predominant factor,” Sawyer said Friday.
“We’ve learned from history and we’ll be in a good space as we get closer. … I’m hoping the number [of candidates] will dwindle as time goes on.”
“In the past, when we bifurcated our interests, we lost out completely. And if we don’t understand history, we’re bound to repeat it,” he said.
Ervin said there’s a reason why Lightfoot is launching her uphill battle for reelection on the West Side.
Her signature Invest South/West plan to rebuild long-neglected, inner-city commercial strips have helped to plug what he called the “doughnut hole of the West Side” otherwise known as West Garfield Park.
“This is some investment that we have never seen — under any administration,” Ervin said.
Lightfoot has challenged the media to “find another mayor” who faced the “unprecedented challenges” that confronted her with, as she put it, “no honeymoon period for me.”
“A pandemic, historic economic meltdown, civic unrest, spiking violence ... all happening within about a six-month period,” the mayor has said.
Taliaferro said Lightfoot has done an “admirable job” in handling those “difficult challenges.”
But he acknowledged there have been “what some may perceive as missteps.”
“I would really love to see some better approaches toward violence reduction. And that calls for better plans from our superintendent,” said Taliaferro, a former Chicago police officer.
Mitts predicted Wilson’s candidacy would be a “great pull from the mayor” on the heels of his multimillion-dollar food and gas giveaways. In 2019, Wilson won 13 of 18 Black wards, finishing fourth overall with 10.6% of the vote.
But Mitts said she is driven by old-fashioned loyalty.
“She’s the mayor. That’s how I operate. I stay with the mayor who’s in the seat. I’ve always done that,” Mitts said.
“I’m giving her that same consideration by trying to work with her as long as she’s mayor.”