After winning all 50 wards and taking 73 percent of the vote during last week’s runoff elections, Democrat Lori Lightfoot was elected Chicago’s first black, female and openly gay mayor.
Lightfoot ran on themes of equity and anti-corruption, leaning on her experience as an attorney and on her work on the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force and at the Office of Professional Standards for the Chicago Police Department. This election was also the first time that Lightfoot, most recently a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Group at Mayer Brown LLP, ran for public office.
Her history-making victory will make the city the largest in the country to be led by a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Voters also nearly broke records for election turnout, but not for the reason you might hope. According to the Chicago Tribune, a near-record low of 34 percent of eligible voters participated in the initial election in February, with only 3.5 percent of those being under the age of 25.
Some young people, however, did make efforts to participate politically. Alexa Cruz, a senior at Daley College in Chicago, volunteered up to 30 hours a week from Lightfoot’s campaign during the runoff, doorknocking and organizing meet and greets.
“She’s breaking barriers. Representation matters,” said Cruz. “As someone that’s going to go down as a ‘first,’ I’m glad it’s her.”
Though Lightfoot will not take office until May, she has already begun working. In a press release issued Sunday, she requested that the City Council Finance Committee postpone a vote on two controversial development projects: Lincoln Yards and The 78.
Chicago would offer Lincoln Yard’s developer, Sterling Bay, $1.3 billion in subsidies — an amount that could otherwise go to local taxing bodies such as Chicago Public Schools.
In the release, Lightfoot said she wanted alderpeople to consider transparency, affordable housing and the projects’ impacts on diversity, population density and schools. The council will decide Wednesday morning whether to create two new tax increment financing districts to support the projects.
Cruz, who is from the Chicago Lawn community area, said she supported this push for equitable investment.
“As someone who grew up in the southwest part of the city, we got the shorter end of the stick when it came to public funding, whether it be for public schools, the park [or] resource centers,” Cruz said.
Lightfoot has emphasized her anti-corruption stance through her plan to eliminate aldermanic prerogative, which gives alderpeople power over zoning changes in their wards.
“No alderman should have that kind of power where people feel like the only way that they can get basic city services and get business done in a ward is to kiss the ring of the alderman,” she said at an informal debate in March before the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board.
Though council members — including Black Caucus members — are reportedly discussing moving against the proposal, Lightfoot’s anti-corruption appeal appeared to sway voters.
When federal prosecutors charged Alderman Edward Burke with attempted extortion in January, frontrunners with ties to him, such as Toni Preckwinkle, took hits. Lightfoot credits this scandal with helping boost her campaign.
“This issue of corruption is something that touches everybody… and people are sick of it,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Tribune last week. “I became the vessel into which people poured their hopes that we could have a different kind of city.”