It’s Lori Lightfoot’s time to shine.
The 55-year-old is poised to be the frontrunner in an unexpectedly wide-open mayoral race after incumbent Rahm Emanuel announced on Tuesday he does not plan to seek reelection. Following eight years in the mayor’s office, the former White House chief of staff claimed, “This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.”
Emanuel was widely unpopular following his perceived mishandling of the Laquan McDonald police shooting case. Although he had reportedly raised more than $10 million for a re-election bid, early polls indicated troubling signs for his campaign.
In a March 2018 survey conducted by opponent Garry McCarthy’s campaign, Emanuel scored just a 32 percent favorability rating among Chicago voters.
Critics concluded Emanuel is “unelectable.”
Although that poll deemed McCarthy, former superintendent of the Chicago police force, is in a “statistical tie” with Emanuel, insiders believe Lightfoot is the most likely choice to become the next mayor of Illinois’ largest city.
A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot co-chaired the Police Accountability Task Force assembled in the wake of the McDonald shooting. A report released by the commission drew attention to systemic racism in Chicago law enforcement, concluding that city police have no “regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
“Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel — that is what we heard about over and over again,” the board stated.
Many believe her qualifications on police reform — which also include serving on the civilian Chicago Police Board — will resonate with voters.
“The police issue is the hottest and most important issue of all,” former Alderman Dick Simpson told the Chicago Sun-Times in May, before Emanuel announced he was stepping down. “[Lightfoot] has a very strong record on the police issue. That will have a lot of appeal in the African-American community.”
“[Lightfoot is] not viewed as being part of the establishment,” added Victor Reyes, a former staffer with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration. “She has positioned herself to be a change-agent.”
Lightfoot signaled her commitment to reform in an August press conference rolling out her ethics plan for city hall. Proposals include banning aldermen from holding nongovernmental jobs that conflict with their duties and limiting mayors to two terms. Daley sat in office for 22 years.
If elected in November, Lightfoot would make history as Chicago’s first female African-American mayor, as well as just the second woman overall. After winning an election in 1979, Jane Byrne served one term.
But just as critically, Lightfoot — who has a 10-year-old daughter with her wife, Amy Eshelman — would be the only black lesbian to serve as mayor of a major U.S. metropolitan area. E. Denise Simmons first broke the glass ceiling for queer women of color in 2008, when she was elected mayor of Cambridge, Mass.
That benchmark would make Lightfoot a critical voice for LGBTQ rights in a progressive state with a conservative governor.
In August, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner voted down legislation which would have expanded Illinois’ LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections to cover small businesses. Currently, provisions in the Illinois Human Rights Act forbidding workplace bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity do not apply to companies with 15 employees or less.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Rauner claimed he would have nixed a same-sex marriage bill if it had come across his desk. Luckily, he never had the chance to weigh in on the issue: Rauner’s predecessor, Democrat Pat Quinn, signed marriage equality into law in November 2013.
As Rauner trails opponent J.B. Pritzker in the general election, Lightfoot hopes to tap into some of that momentum, as well as Chicago’s sizable LGBTQ voting population.
According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, more than 146,000 adults in America’s third-largest metropolitan area identify as queer or transgender. That figure accounts for around 7.5 percent of Chicago’s adult population, according to the Sun-Times.
After coming out 30 years ago, Lightfoot said her embrace would signal Chicago is ready to move forward following the division of the previous administration.
“Look, I’m amazed at the progress we have made,” the candidate told members of the media. “I think we’re in a very different time. I think we’re in a time where people, you know, they’re gonna judge a leader by their integrity, and their character, what the vision is.”
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