Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched her bid for a second term on Tuesday, releasing a video that cast her as a fighter determined to address inequities that have long tormented Chicagoans — despite fierce criticism of her approach that she says is rooted in racism and sexism.
Lightfoot’s opening argument in her bid to be the first woman to be re-elected as Chicago mayor acknowledges that much of her term in office has been marked by bruising and at times deeply personal confrontations — but says those skirmishes are the cost of much-needed progress.
“Change doesn’t happen without a fight,” Lightfoot said in the video. “It’s hard. It takes time. And, I’ll be the first to admit I’m just not the most patient person. I’m only human, and I guess sometimes it shows. But just because some may not always like my delivery doesn’t mean we’re not delivering.”
The first Black woman to be elected mayor of Chicago, Lightfoot’s announcement seeks to cast the wide array of enemies she has made since taking office across the political spectrum as evidence that she has disrupted the status quo that has governed Chicago for decades.
“When we fight for change, confront a global pandemic, work to keep kids in school, take on guns and gangs, systemic inequality and political corruption only to have powerful forces try and stop progress for Chicago — of course I take it personally, for our city,” Lightfoot says.
After quoting unnamed critics who have called her “tough” and “angry,” Lightfoot seeks to turn that opprobrium to her advantage in a city that has long embraced rough-around-the-edges politicians determined to win at all costs.
Lightfoot will spend her first full day as a candidate hopscotching across the city, starting her day in Ashburn and making stops in Little Village, Greater Grand Crossing and Garfield Park before wrapping up with her lone stop on the North Side in Northalsted, the heart of Chicago’s gay community, representatives announced.
Lightfoot’s campaign will tout her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened more than 620,000 Chicagoans, hospitalized approximately 43,000 of them and killed 7,711 people.
The pandemic, and the economic collapse it triggered, staggered Chicago, Lightfoot said. But as upbeat music plays while pictures of Lightfoot in Chicago’s 77 community areas flash, Lightfoot strikes a reassuring tone during the video.
“When we got knocked down by COVID, we came together as a city and we got right back up,” Lightfoot says. “Because that’s who we are, and that’s how we’ve been able to make so much progress, despite all that’s been thrown at us.”
Lightfoot implicitly compares herself to Chicago itself, battered — but not bowed — by forces outside its control.
“Look I get it,” Lightfoot said, standing in a downtown office building that bares more than a passing resemblance to City Hall. “I don’t look or sound like any other mayor we’ve ever had before, and I’ve had to fight to get a seat at the table. And, like so many in our city, I’ve had to fight to have my voice heard. That’s why I’ll never back down from fighting every day to turn your voice into action.”
Five major challengers have already announced bids to challenge Lightfoot’s re-election bid: Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward), former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, state Rep. Kam Buckner, businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson and Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward).
But to win a second term as mayor, Lightfoot will have to fight serious headwinds caused by the surge of crime in Chicago that began as the pandemic swept the city and shut down schools and businesses, triggering a financial meltdown.
Lightfoot has been quick to cite data that shows shootings and murders have dropped so far this this year, as compared with the same period in 2021. But last year was the most violent year in Chicago in approximately 25 years, putting Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, her hand-picked choice to lead the department, on the defensive.
Although she is the incumbent, Lightfoot launches her campaign without the biggest war chest. That belongs to Wilson, who flooded his campaign account with $5 million of his own money when he launched his bid for mayor.
With $1.7 million on hand at the end of March, Lightfoot has reported an additional $314,000 in large donations, according to records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Lightfoot plans to attend a series of fundraisers Tuesday evening to kick her scramble to close that gap nto high gear.
While Lightfoot’s announcement focused on her approach as Chicago’s 56th mayor, it was light on policy proposals and did not highlight specific achievements.
That is a significant shift from the 2019 campaign, which Lightfoot began as a wonky outsider focused on reforming Chicago’s government with dozens of policy proposals and a detailed platform.
That positioned Lightfoot to seize the advantage when Ald. Ed Burke (14th Ward) was charged with attempted extortion, making corruption the biggest issue. Burke has pleaded not guilty, and is still awaiting trial on 14 counts of racketeering, extortion and bribery.
Lightfoot — complete with campaign slogan vowing to “Bring in the Light” — rode the demand for reform that followed Burke's arrest to a first-place finish in the first round of voting in February 2019 ahead of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
In the runoff, Lightfoot won all 50 wards with nearly 74% of the vote, allowing Lightfoot to claim a mandate to implement sweeping reforms at Chicago City Hall.
But those efforts were all but derailed when COVID-19 swept Chicago, and the city has yet to fully recover.
But even before the pandemic reshuffled everyone’s priorities, Lightfoot governed as a reformer, not a progressive — and quickly clashed with the Chicago Teachers Union, which supported Preckwinkle, as well as progressive City Council members and groups.
While the teachers’ union remains one of her biggest opponents, much has changed since Lightfoot last asked Chicagoans for their vote.
No longer a rookie, Lightfoot will run for a second term as a seasoned politician with a record to tout — and defend.