CHICAGO — Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle traveled a long road to reach Election Day in Chicago. For Lightfoot the journey began 11 months ago, for Preckwinkle it was seven.
On the political Richter scale, it was a 9. Last September, two-term incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel dropped the bombshell that he was not seeking re-election.
By the time Emanuel backed out, former federal prosecutor Lightfoot had been on the campaign trail for four months.
Sensing an opening with Emanuel out, the Cook County Board President and Party Boss Toni Preckwinkle threw her hat into the ring. Her announcement came at an event in Hyde Park.
Preckwinkle and Lightfoot were not alone. Twenty-one people filed papers to run for mayor and 14 of them made the ballot.
In the lead up to the Feb. 26 general election, Preckwinkle maintained frontrunner status, while Lightfoot, never holding elected office, struggled to gain attention.
Three days into the new year — another game-changing earthquake. The feds charged Ald. Ed Burke, the Dean of City Council, with extortion. For Preckwinkle, it was a nightmare. Immediately she had to answer for her connection to Burke. Campaign money tied to the alderman’s alleged scheme was intended for Preckwinkle.
Other candidates also had Burke ties, but not Lightfoot. She hammered away at political corruption.
“I’m standing here today to reject a broken political system that serves only itself,” Lightfoot said.
The Chicago Sun-Times bought the message and endorsedLightfoot, which gave her a surge in the run up to Feb 26.
On Election Day on Feb. 26, history was made as two black women made the runoff. Preckwinkle, coming in second place, used her victory speech to attack.
“You have to come to this job with the capacity and the capability to make your vision a reality,” Preckwinkle said.
The runoff was framed – experience verses change.
The endorsements rolled in for Lightfoot. Seven former mayoral candidates and key trade unions announced support.
With prominent black elected officials, Preckwinkle doubled down on her strength on the South and West Sides.
The campaign took an ugly turn. Anti-gay flyers referencing the fact Lightfoot is a lesbian surfaced, and both candidates condemned them.
Preckwinkle labeled Lightfoot a wealthy corporate lawyer.
“She defended a Wall Street bank being sued for racial discrimination and worked for Republican politicians trying to protect their power,” Preckwinkle said.
High profile Preckwinkle surrogates warned Lightfoot, former chair of the Police Board, would go easy on cops.
“Anybody who votes for Lori the blood of the next young black man or women who is killed by the police is on your hands,” Congressman Bobby Rush said.
Last week, a blistering attack ad came from Preckwinkle against Lightfoot. Preckwinkle lashed out at her by referencing a 2004 West Side fire that killed four children. Lightfoot was the chief of staff at the Office of Emergency Management and Communication at the time and was blamed for 911 tapes that were allegedly destroyed.
While Preckwinkle went negative, Lightfoot went positive. Her ad said, “The politics of the past haven’t served us. It’s time to bring in the light.”
The five-week runoff was not beanbag – a political contest with stakes this high never is. But Tuesday evening, the race is over, and Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to ever elect a black woman as mayor.