Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday accused Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s campaign of trying to sabotage her mayoral run by spreading a false rumor that Lightfoot was going to drop out of the race.
Lightfoot told Carol Marin on “Chicago Tonight” that the Preckwinkle campaign had previously tried to “take her out” by spreading a rumor that she would quit the race and perhaps take a job with Preckwinkle.
“We never had any discussion about me taking any kind of a position,” said Lightfoot. “Her people spread that rumor but it was entirely false. What I told her once she jumped in is that I’m not going anywhere.”
Lightfoot said her integrity was more important to her than any rumored job offer.
“I don’t need a job from anyone,” said Lightfoot. “I’ve led a very successful life that I could easily go back to. I’m in this because I care about our city.”
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, emerged as a surprise winner Tuesday with 17.5 percent of the vote while Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, came in with 16.1 percent. The two will compete in an April 2 runoff to determine who will take over at City Hall.
“So what do you think of us now?” a jubilant Lightfoot asked a crowd of cheering supporters Tuesday night. “This, my friends, is what change looks like!”
Preckwinkle referenced the historic nature of what happened Tuesday as she addressed her supporters.
“We may not yet be at the finish line, but we should acknowledge that history is being made,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s clear we’re at a defining moment in our city’s history.”
Just one month ago, Lightfoot was in ninth place, according to pollsters, with less than 3 percent of the vote. But a key endorsement from the Chicago Sun-Times boosted her campaign’s profile – and its coffers.
Also raising Lightfoot’s profile: A heated argument on camera with state Rep. Robert Martwick – a Preckwinkle supporter – in which the two argued over whether the Cook County assessor should be an appointed or elected position. Lightfoot stood her ground and to many observers came off better in the exchange.
“As people really started to focus on the race our campaign really stood out because we are not part of the broken political machine,” said Lightfoot. “We offer something very different.”
But while analysts praised Lightfoot’s campaign, most still seemed to expect Preckwinkle and Bill Daley – who had the backing of many in the business community and more money than any other candidate – to head to a runoff.
Lightfoot launched her campaign before Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he wouldn’t run for a third term and was expected to make police reform and accountability the focal point of her campaign.
But after Emanuel announced he wasn’t seeking re-election, a flurry of candidates, including Preckwinkle, jumped in the race and Lightfoot had to quickly switch gears and fight a broader campaign.
Lightfoot is also the first openly gay candidate to make it on to the mayoral ballot. Once that might have been a headline, but nearly five years after Illinois approved same-sex marriage, it seems a non-issue for many voters. But it still may count against her with conservative black voters who overwhelmingly backed businessman Willie Wilson.
But Lightfoot said she had been getting a good response from black churchgoers.
“I spent a lot of time in and out of churches, black churches in particular over the course of this campaign, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive,” said Lightfoot. “People are open to the message of change and what we can do to come together as a community and take on the tough challenges that we have to face together.”
Wilson won 14 majority-black wards on the South and West Sides with Preckwinkle coming in second in all of those races.
Lightfoot won 11 wards all on the North Side apart from the 25th Ward on the Near West Side. That includes many of the so-called lakefront liberals that once were a key component of former Mayor Harold Washington’s Rainbow Coalition.
In a candidate questionnaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot said that Washington – the city’s first black mayor when he was elected in 1983 – was an inspiration.
“I moved to Chicago in the middle of the second Washington campaign,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times. “I have a never seen such energy and enthusiasm regarding a political movement … Washington had a vision for a different, more inclusive and equitable Chicago. I very much share that vision.”
The question now is whether she can emulate Washington’s accomplishment and put together her own rainbow coalition that can win against a candidate who also claims the progressive mantle.