CHICAGO — Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle are headed to an April 2 runoff to decide who will become the nation’s third-largest city’s next mayor, topping a crowded field of 14 candidates.
The winner will become the first female black mayor in Chicago’s 181-year history. If Lightfoot prevails, it would also mark the city electing its first out LGBT mayor.
Lightfoot had 17.5 percent of the vote, while Preckwinkle received 16 percent with votes from 95 percent of precincts counted. Since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the runoff was triggered.
Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, who had 14.8 percent of the vote, conceded late Tuesday and congratulated Lightfoot and Preckwinkle.
“This is what change looks like,” said Lightfoot, who grew up in Ohio and moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago law school. “It’s true that not every day, a little black girl in a low-income family from a segregated steel town makes the runoff to be the mayor of the third-largest city in the country.”
Preckwinkle, a former alderman and head of the Cook County Democratic Party, has long been a force in Chicago politics. As she celebrated moving on to a runoff, she aimed to tie Lightfoot to the administrations of current Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Emanuel had appointed her to the Chicago Police Board and the city’s Police Accountability Task Force. Daley had named her in 2002 as chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, a since abolished disciplinary arm of the Chicago Police Department.
Preckwinkle also jabbed at Lightfoot for never previously holding political office.
“It’s not enough to stand at a podium and talk about what you want to see happen,” Preckwinkle said. “You have to come to this job with the capacity and capability to make your vision a reality.”
Polls leading up to the vote Tuesday showed at least six candidates with a serious shot at finishing in the top two, but none coming close to a majority.
The top contenders going into Tuesday included Preckwinkle, Lightfoot, Daley, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former Chicago school board president Gery Chico and businessman Willie Wilson. Within three hours of polls closing, Daley, Chico and Mendoza conceded.
“Tonight’s results were not what we hoped. But we cannot dwell on what could have been,” Daley told supporters. “We must look forward to how we can help shape our city’s future. Chicago is a part of me. It always will be. While I may not be its next mayor, I won’t stop fighting to move our city forward.”
A victory by Daley, the son and brother of mayors, would have meant the return of one of the nation’s most famous political clans to the fifth floor of City Hall. His father, Richard J. Daley, and his brother, Richard M. Daley, served a combined 43 years.
Lightfoot has raised about $1.64 million for the campaign. Her war chest was significantly smaller than Preckwinkle, who raised $4.6 million, and Daley, who brought in $8.7 million.
The 14 candidates and independent groups raised nearly $30 million to besiege Chicagoans with an inescapable loop of television and digital advertising, campaign calls and mailers.
Also on the ballot were races for city council, clerk and treasurer.
Preckwinkle cast her ballot at an elementary school in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
“This is a historic moment for the city,” she said. “I am proud of the work of my campaign and feel optimistic as we head into tonight.”
Election officials said turnout was low. As of 5 p.m. CT, fewer than a third of the city’s 1.58 million registered voters had cast a ballot.
Most of the field, including Preckwinkle, entered the race after Emanuel announced in September he would not seek a third term. Only four of the 14 have held elected office. Lightfoot announced her candidacy before Emanuel announced he wouldn’t run and has boasted during the campaign that she did not fear taking on “Goliath.”
Emanuel, a former congressman, White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama and cabinet secretary under President Bill Clinton, is a prodigious fundraiser who amassed $10 million in campaign contributions before announcing he wouldn’t seek reelection.
He had become a polarizing figure in the city.
The Chicago Teachers Union called a 7-day strike in 2012, the first work stoppage in the school district in 25 years. Emanuel drew criticism for closing 50 Chicago Public Schools during his first term, the vast majority impacting black and Latino children.
And he saw his standing plummet in the city’s African-American community after the court-ordered release in late 2015 of chilling police video that showed Jason Van Dyke, a white officer, firing 16 shots at Laquan McDonald, a black teen.
Emanuel had resisted releasing the video. It spurred weeks of largely peaceful protests.
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The next mayor will inherit major challenges, including unusually high levels of gun violence, a woefully underfunded municipal workers pension program, and a shrinking population.
Chicago recorded 561 homicides last year, an improvement over the previous year but far more than in larger New York and Los Angeles. The city suffered nearly 2,000 homicides from 2016 to 2018, a period when most of the nation saw homicide rates near historic lows.
Some voters remained undecided right up until they arrived at their polling places. Juan Toleltino, 63, said he was torn between Daley, Mendoza and Chico.
Whoever wins, he said, must address the killings and shootings.
“The first thing I want to see them do is deal with the gun violence,” Toleltino said. “We got to get it under control.”
The city is also weighed down by roughly $28 billion in unmet municipal worker pension obligations. At the same time, the population has plummeted – Houston is on pace to pass the city as the nation’s third largest in the next decade – while the chasm between rich and poor has grown.
In 1970, about half of Chicago’s census tracts were classified as middle-income areas, according to a study by the Voorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Only 16 percent of the tracts were classified as middle income in 2017, according to the study.
The difficulties are particularly notable in huge swaths of the city’s South and West sides, predominantly African-American neighborhoods that have lost the most population.
“We got to get some vitality back in those (neighborhoods) by trying to get some of the benefits that are downtown and in some of these good neighborhoods,” Daley said in an interview.
“Try to get capital in these neighborhoods, build homes in these neighborhoods. We need to bring young people back into some of these neighborhoods where you may be able to get a good deal because there is so much property.”
The race was shaken up last month when federal authorities announced charges of attempted extortion against Alderman Ed Burke, a powerful 50-year veteran of the city council.
Burke, who won reelection to another four-year term Tuesday, is accused of shaking down the operators of Burger King restaurants in Illinois. He has pleaded not guilty, and is running for re-election.
Four of the top candidates – Preckwinkle, Mendoza, Chico and Daley – had ties to the alderman and found themselves scrambling to distance themselves.
Preckwinkle received more than $100,000 from a Burke-sponsored fundraiser last year. Mendoza was married at Burke’s home. Burke endorsed Chico, who worked as an aide to the alderman 30 years ago. Daley’s family has received about $30,000 in political donations from Burke over decades.
While political corruption has grabbed headlines, financial stability was cited by 18 percent of voters as the top issue facing the city – a higher concern than any other issue, according to a 270 Strategies poll published Sunday.
Betsy Tavizon said she voted for Preckwinkle – the “least worst” of the choices.
Tavison, 29, said she was looking for a candidate who spoke to her concerns about the rising cost of living in the city. She thinks about leaving Chicago because she finds it difficult to imagine a scenario in which she’d ever be able to become a homeowner.
“It was a difficult decision,” Tavizon said. “I didn’t make my choice until last night.”
Dane Lopez, 41, was most concerned about the impact gentrification was having on his neighborhood, Humboldt Park. His neighborhood, home to one of the country’s biggest Puerto Rican communities, has become more affluent over the last two decades, and rising real estate prices, rents and property taxes have made it difficult for many of his longtime neighbors to keep up.
He decided to vote for Mendoza, in part because she was the only candidate to visit his church and ask for the community’s support.
“She said she’s going to put the focus in the community,” Lopez said. “It was difficult sorting out who to vote for, but she was one that connected the most to my values.”