CHICAGO — In about three weeks Chicagoans will head to the polls to elect a new mayor.
In politics, everything you say matters. How you say it. When you say it. Why you say it. Was it a compliment or shrewd politics?
A comment from last Thursday’s NBC mayoral candidate debate is now under scrutiny. Toni Preckwinkle was asked what was one thing she admired about Lori Lightfoot.
“That she’s open and honest about her LGBTQ orientation. I think it’s important in this country that we be respectful of differences and understand that all of us matter,” she said.
She insisted that it was a compliment, unrehearsed, spur-of-the-moment. But on Monday, Lightfoot, at a news conference with State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) — who is also gay — said she’s not so sure.
“I can only hope that she wasn’t blowing some kind of dog whistle,” Lightfoot said.
“It almost doesn’t matter what the intent was,” she said. “The effect was to some – I found out about if from folks who heard it that way.”
The finalists in the race for Chicago mayor, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle are competing hard for African American voters, a constituency that tends to be socially conservative.
“If there was a dog whistle that was blown to try to motivate that base and say ‘Oh, by the way did you know?’ That’s the thing that would be concerning if that was in fact the intent,” Lightfoot said.
“That’s ridiculous. I’ve always been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community. I have members of that community on my staff of my campaign and in my government office.
Preckwinkle’s remark came hours before Willie Wilson endorsed Lightfoot. A Christian philanthropist, Wilson spoke candidly to WGN last week about churchgoers’ struggle with Lightfoot’s sexual orientation.
“One of the problems for the black churches, and I say this, the black community and some of the leadership there, is the gay and lesbian situation, and that’s a tough one,” he said. “I’ve had an issue with it, too. Literally, I’ve had an issue with it myself. The problem is that I’ve been exposed more and have more from my experience — have learned that it’s not about that – all of us are human beings.”
Wilson overcame his struggles and threw his support behind Lightfoot. Lightfoot is hoping others in the black church do the same. Before Wilson announced his support for Lightfoot, Preckwinkle met with him. She said Wilson mentioned needing help paying off campaign debt and asked about patronage jobs.
A Wilson spokesman said he has no campaign debt and he simply asked Preckwinkle if she would be open to taking suggestions for appointments.