CHICAGO (CBS) — Lori Lightfoot made history in more ways than one Tuesday night, easily defeating Toni Preckwinkle to not only become the first African-American woman elected mayor of Chicago, but the first gay woman to win the seat as well.
With 97 percent of the vote counted, Lightfoot held a commanding 74 percent to 26 percent lead in a race that saw possibly record low turnout of around 32 percent. Preckwinkle called Lightfoot shortly after 8 p.m. to concede defeat.
“Our differences are nothing compared to what we can achieve together,” Lightfoot told her supporters of her opponent. “Today you did more than make history, you created a movement for change.” She vowed to make “all streets” of Chicago safe and promised to invest in education for Chicago’s children.
“We can and we will break this city’s endless cycle of corruption,” she said. “Never again will politicians profit from elected positions.”
According to the Chicago Board of Elections, Lightfoot won convincingly in all 50 wards. Even in Preckwinkle’s 4th Ward, Lightfoot won easily, by about 2,800 votes.
The last time a mayoral candidate won more than 73 percent of the vote was in 2003 when Mayor Daley captured 78 percent.
Lightfoot’s victory followed five weeks of bitter rhetoric between her and Preckwinkle, after she won the most votes in the first round of the election in February. She had seemed to come out of virtually nowhere to secure that victory in February, having polled as low as 2.8 percent just a month earlier.
“While I may be disappointed, I am not disheartened,” Preckwinkle told supporters on Tuesday night. “This is clearly an historic night. Tonight is about the path forward. I still believe in the power of public service.”
After emerging from the first round of the election as the front-runner, Lightfoot quickly began outpacing Preckwinkle in endorsements, with several defeated mayoral candidates backing her in the runoff.
The campaign took a particularly nasty turn in the final week, as Preckwinkle’s campaign released a TV ad attacking how Lori Lightfoot investigated a critical failure of the 911 call center. The ad was based on a very real tragedy: A 2004 West Side fire that killed three of Dwayne and Emily Funches’ children, as well as a 12-year-old godson. However, the Funches family reportedly was infuriated with the ad, saying they were not consulted about it, and wanted it pulled, because it exploits their tragedy. Nonetheless, the Preckwinkle campaign refused to pull the ad.
Lightfoot, 56, has portrayed herself as a progressive champion for reforming City Hall, and repeatedly criticized Preckwinkle as a Democratic party boss who ran a corrupt political machine, assailing her for her ties to Ald. Edward Burke (14th), who earlier this year was indicted for extortion. She also lambasted Preckwinkle for supporting former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios after a 2017 Chicago Tribune/ProPublica Illinois investigation that found the property tax assessment program run by his office unfairly shifted the tax burden from wealthy property owners to middle- and low-income homeowners.
In their first debate, Lightfoot accused Preckwinkle of telling “lie after lie” during the campaign and has repeatedly said Preckwinkle has tried “to portray me as something other than I am.”
Preckwinkle has called Lightfoot a hypocrite, calling her rival a name-caller who once compared her and other candidates with ties to Burke “cockroaches” in a campaign ad.
“It’s like when cockroaches, there’s a light that’s shined on them, they scramble, initially they’re silent, then they try to say, ‘Not me, not me,’ ” Lightfoot said in the ad. “Then when they get caught, right, then they finally stand up and do something. It’s a day late and a dollar short.”
Preckwinkle also repeatedly criticized Lightfoot’s record as a corporate attorney, blasting her for her work defending Merrill Lynch in a discrimination lawsuit, and
Lightfoot also criticized Preckwinkle for joining the race for mayor only after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not run for a third term, touting her own decision to challenge Emanuel before he announced his retirement.
A former federal prosecutor, former president of the Chicago Police Board, and former Police Accountability Task Force chair, Lightfoot gained a reputation as a police reformer. The task force she led recommended sweeping changes at the Chicago Police Department, calling out a “history of racial disparity and discrimination.”
The panel also recommended replacing the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority with an oversight agency better equipped to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers. Just months later, the City Council voted to eliminate IPRA and replace I with the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, with double the budget, and a larger staff.
Now, as she prepares to take over as mayor next month, Lightfoot will be tasked with making sure the Chicago Police Department lives up to the terms of a consent decree governing sweeping changes recommended by the U.S. Justice Department.