Will voters’ ‘identity politics’ choose new Chicago mayor?

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CHICAGO — The campaign for Chicago mayor is in a sprint to the finish line with just over four weeks until voters head to the polls to pick a new leader.

The April 2 run-off election will be historic: For the first time, Chicago will have a black woman as mayor.

Candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot are trying to broaden their bases, campaigning in neighborhoods where voters didn’t choose them Tuesday.

Preckwinkle this week released a negative attack ad on TV, while Lightfoot is running a positive message.

But as commercials flood the airwaves, political expert Jon Paul Valadez said the race might just be decided on the ground.

“Where they’re going to be able to pick up the most ground is by being on the ground, having a strong field operation in those targeted wards, putting faces there, having real-life conversations with real people,” Valadez said.

He believes Lightfoot showed crossover appeal on election night — running up big numbers in mostly white Near North Side and lakefront neighborhoods. Preckwinkle held her base near the South Side shoreline.

The rest of the city, however, voted along racial fault lines: White voters on the Northwest and Southwest Sides went for Bill Daley and Jerry Joyce.

Hispanic voters opted for Gery Chico and Susana Mendoza. Large swaths of traditionally black communities chose Willie Wilson.

It begs the question: Will voters cling to their traditional penchant for “identity” politics? In some ways, the race is all about race.

“You saw Chico and Mendoza do a great job in those heavily Hispanic areas, and Willie Wilson do an exceptional job in a lot of the African-American areas,” Valadez said. “In order for [Lightfoot and Preckwinkle] to be successful on April 2, they’re going to have to tap into that market.”

It’s why Lightfoot was in Englewood on Saturday, kicking off a canvassing operation. An army of volunteers knocked on doors and passed out yard signs and pamphlets to potential voters.

“Just coming to Englewood says a lot to me about Lori,” local Lolita Hughes said. “So, why don’t I give her a chance? … Coming to Englewood makes a difference. I was wondering if Toni would come to Englewood. Probably not.”

Preckwinkle did not have public campaign events Saturday. She will rely on her support in the labor movement — counting on unions to get their members to the polls.

“We have to have a city in which our residents believe there’s an opportunity for them and for their children,” Preckwinkle said.

In Hispanic neighborhoods, voters said they want to see politicians in person, not simply on TV.

“Latinos feel very offended when the candidate does not come out to our community,” Angel Correa said.

Meanwhile, the broad outlines of the campaign are shaping up to be change versus experience.

Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, has argued that her decades in city and county government make her the more battle-tested candidate.

“For the last eight years,” Preckwinkle said, “I have been the chief executive of the second largest county in the country. So, I’ve got experience running a large unit of government, and let me just say, my opponent’s never been elected to office. Never.”

“Toni Preckwinkle has been in office a really long time,” Lightfoot said, “and I think people are asking themselves: Is my life any better for her having been in office? Do I feel like there’s a measurable difference?”


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