Lori Lightfoot wins Chicago mayoral race, to become city's first black woman mayor
Toni Preckwinkle, left, was facing off against Lori Lightfoot in the race for Chicago mayor. (Getty Images/AP, File)
Polls have closed in Chicago's mayoral election, in which a former federal prosecutor who has never held elected office was vying Tuesday against a powerful official whose political career spans decades -- providing voters a clear contrast in a historic runoff already assured of elevating a black woman to lead the nation's third-largest city.
The race to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who opted not to run for re-election, comes days after Chicago state prosecutors stunned the nation by opting to drop charges against actor Jussie Smollet, who was accused of faking a hate-crime attack that implicated supporters of President Trump. Prosecutors have said they did not intend to vindicate Smollet, but the actor publicly claimed exoneration -- leading comedians to mock him, and police unions and the mayor's office to cry foul.
Lori Lightfoot, 56, who had served as an assistant U.S. attorney before entering private practice, emerged as the surprising leader in the first round of voting in February when 14 candidates were on the ballot. She was matched up against Toni Preckwinkle, a former schoolteacher who served on the Chicago City Council for 19 years before becoming Cook County Board president in 2011.
Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to elect a black woman as mayor. The winner will join seven other black women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans.
Lightfoot, who is openly gay, seized on outrage over the deadly shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald -- at the hands of white officer Jason Van Dyke -- to launch her campaign. That was even before Emanuel announced he wouldn't seek a third term amid criticism for initially resisting calls to release video of the shooting.
"I'm not a person who decided I would climb the ladder of a corrupt political party," Lightfoot said during a debate last month. "I don't hold the title of committeeman, central committeeman, boss of the party."
That was a not-so-veiled reference to Preckwinkle, who also leads the county's Democratic Party and has countered that her opponent lacked the necessary experience for the job.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, center, at a news conference last month after prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)
"This is not an entry-level job," Preckwinkle has said repeatedly during the campaign. "It's easy to talk about change. It's hard to actually do it. And that's been my experience — being a change maker, a change agent, transforming institutions and communities."
Joyce Ross, 64, a certified nursing assistant living on the West Side, said she cast her ballot Tuesday for Lightfoot. Ross also said she believed Lightfoot would be better able to clean up the police department and curb the city's violence.
In addition, she said she was bothered by Preckwinkle's association with longtime Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted earlier this year on charges he tried to shake down a restaurant owner who wanted to build in his ward.
"My momma always said birds of a feather flock together," Ross said.
Truly Gannon, a 39-year old dietitian and mother of four , said she wasn't bothered by stories that portrayed Preckwinkle as an insider aligned with questionable politicians like Burke. She said she supported Preckwinkle based on her experience.
"I'm not sure Lightfoot would be able to handle the job like Preckwinkle," she said.
The campaign between the two women got off to a contentious start, with Preckwinkle's advertising focusing on Lightfoot's work as a partner at Mayer Brown, one of the nation's largest law firms, and tagging her as a "wealthy corporate lawyer."
Preckwinkle also tried to cast Lightfoot as an insider for working in police oversight posts under Emanuel and police oversight, procurement and emergency communications posts under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
In one ad, Preckwinkle criticized Lightfoot's oversight of emergency communications in 2004 when a fire killed four children. A judge ordered Lightfoot to preserve 911 tapes after questions were raised about how the emergency call was handled. The ad noted some of the tapes were destroyed, prompting the judge to rebuke Lightfoot. The ad sparked a backlash from the family of three of the children killed, with their sister accusing Preckwinkle of trying to take advantage of her family's tragedy.
Lightfoot also responded by scolding her opponent for being negative while also airing ads pointing out Preckwinkle's connection to powerful local Democrats, including one under federal indictment.
Preckwinkle spent much of her time during the campaign answering for her ties to Chicago's political establishment. She and her supporters asserted her rise to Democratic Party leadership did not hinder her ability to oppose policies promoted by the city's ever-powerful mayors.
"My whole career has been about change, and change is action and results, not simply words," said Preckwinkle, who said her experience made her better positioned to lead a city with financial problems and poorer neighborhoods hit by gun violence.
Dueling protestors speaking out Monday in Chicago over Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx's office's decision to drop all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Despite the barbs on the campaign trail, the two advanced similar ideas to boost the city's finances.
Both candidates expressed support for a casino in Chicago and for changing the state's income tax system to a graduated tax, in which higher earners would be taxed at a higher rate.
Preckwinkle said that while downtown development should remain a priority, it should not be at the cost of neighborhood growth. She promoted additional investments in neighborhood schools, affordable housing and criminal justice reform.
Lightfoot said that as mayor, she would focus on investing in neighborhoods on the West and South Sides and bring transparency and accountability to City Hall. She added she also wanted to end City Hall corruption and restore people's faith in government.
"The machine's been in decline for a while, but it still has a grip on certain things," Lightfoot said. "This is our opportunity to send it to its grave, once and for all."
Fox News' Andrew O'Reilly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.