Northwestern has a reputation of producing politicians. The university was responsible for the education of former Chicago mayors Rahm Emanuel and Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor. Seven Illinois governors attended NU, including current Governor J. B. Pritzker, whom the Pritzker School of Law is named after.

Northwestern has also educated presidents, or at least a president — Amos Sawyer served as Liberia’s interim leader between 1990 and 1994. Many other alumni have worked as state ministers, ranging from Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan to Indonesian Minister for National Development Armida Alisjahbana, along with Argentine Education Minister Estaban Bullrich.

Last weekend, another Wildcat joined this selective club. On Sunday, the citizens of Colombia’s capital city Bogotá elected alumna Claudia López as their first female, openly LGBTQ mayor. The political scientist, who ran on an anti-corruption, pro-women platform, is set to head South America’s fourth largest capital beginning Jan. 1.

The 49-year-old first got involved in politics through student activism. As a Finance, Government and International Relations student at Externado University of Colombia in the 1980s, she became a member of the Séptima Papeleta movement, which contributed to the 1991 Constituent Assembly and resulted in the adoption of a new national Constitution.

After college, López wrote political analysis for leading Colombian publications, including the county’s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, as well as Revista Semana and La Silla Vacía. In 2005, she published an exposé on the ties between paramilitary leaders and politicians. Her investigation on “parapolitics” culminated in the prosecution of over 60 political figures, including the cousin of then-President Álvaro Uribe.

In 2009, López was dismissed from El Tiempo after denouncing the newspaper’s alleged conflict of interest. On her last opinion column, the writer argued El Tiempo’s journalistic quality was “compromised” due to its shareholder Juan Manuel Santos’ intention to run for president. That sparked discussion over freedom of expression in Colombia.

López first ran for office in 2014, when se was elected senator with over 80,000 votes. In 2016, she announced her pre-candidacy for president, but later decided to run for vice president on former Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo’s ticket. They ended in third place.

Until Spring 2019, López divided her time between leading a political life in Colombia and completing her doctorate in Political Science at Northwestern, where she was a Fulbright scholar. Her dissertation focused on the role of democratization in contemporary state-building.

Political Science Professor James Mahoney, who was on López’s dissertation committee, says that although López is a brilliant politician, he feels “privileged to know the analytical and theoretical side of Claudia's thinking.”

“Her passion for ideas is as strong as her passion for politics. Claudia's gift for original ideas, her tireless work ethic and her compassion as a human being are exactly what the citizens of Bogotá need in a leader right now,” Mahoney said. “She is as fearless in real world politics as she is in academic research on politics.”

López’s fellow countrywoman, Political Science Professor Ana Arjona — who was also on her dissertation committee — believes her election “marks a profound change in Colombia.”

“She is the first woman ever elected as mayor of Bogotá, she does not belong to the traditional parties, and she is gay,” Arjona said. “Her victory is a symbol of change in the electorate. It is also one of those symbolic moments that can open doors for many others behind her. It is an important achievement in the quest for equality not just in Colombia, but also in Latin America more broadly.”

Thumbnail courtesy Wikimedia Commons.