Chicago’s First Black Female Mayor
The grand ballroom of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue shines gold and indigo as images of Lori Lightfoot at community meetings, basketball games, and hospitals flash across twin projectors. Beyoncé plays in the background and Chicagoans filter into the room with buttons and signs that urge on-lookers to “bring in the light.”
This is the viewing party of Lori Lightfoot, and in an electoral season that’s been as taxing as its’ outcome has proven to be legendary, tonight Chicago elected its’ first Black female mayor. From the initial mayoral election on March 1 where 14 candidates ran against each other, Lori Lightfoot with 17.5 percent and Toni Preckwinkle with 16.1 percent and the final two remained in the run-off on Tuesday April, 2nd. Lori Lightfoot won the runoff with 76 percent vote to Toni Preckwinkle 24 percent.
The two candidates took similar views on issues such as The Cop Academy, a $95 billion- dollar plan to build a police training academy in the West Garfield Park Neighborhood, a plan that Lightfoot called “ill-conceived” and Preckwinkle stated should be halted until “further review.”
Still, local organizations and activists for police accountability were skeptical about Lightfoot’s allegiances given her former position as leader of the Police Accountability Task Force, which during her time on the board, incidents such as the infamous Laquan MacDonald Shooting in 2014 happened — a case where a police officer Jason Van Dyke shot the 17-year-old 16 times and wasn’t indicted on first degree murder until January of this year.
At the viewing party, a diverse crowd fills the room with everyone from people in blazers and buttons up, to folks wearing t-shirts that say “let’s make history” with each word spelled out in a different color of the rainbow. At 7 p.m. the crowd erupts like clockwork — with the polls officially closed the ballroom fills with tension and hope as WGN comes on the screen preparing to announce the winner of tonight’s election.
Periodic chants make their way into the room during precinct reporting updates. Around 7:30 p.m. Lori Lightfoot is at 74 percent votes and while Toni Preckwinkle is at 26 percent. The crowd chats “Lori, Lori, Lori” over a lively pop beat that blasts through the speakers.
“The small person’s voice is not being heard, It’s like one is powerless,” said James LeWan, a current Edgewater and former Hyde Park Resident. “Lori absolutely struck me as someone of integrity, someone who was genuine, and really wanted to do something different.”
The authenticity of Lightfoot is something other supporters seem to relate to and see as a primary reason for voting for her.
“Rather than the Chicago Machine or the corporations, she [Lightfoot] really is interested in listening to the community and working on behalf of the community interest,” said Lauren Harper, a volunteer for Lightfoot’s campaign.
The “Chicago Machine,” a metaphor that has been used to describe the chaotic political climate of Chicago, is something that many have been critical of Preckwinkle for her due to her role in the executive branch of the Cook County Government.
“Letting in the light is such a good slogan for her [Lightfoot]….I think that what she will bring into city hall is a level of transparency and doing what is best for the city,” said Harper. “I feel like she’s an advocate first and a politician last.” “She’s really interested in working with the community,” she continued.
Other Lightfoot supporters like Michael Bergmann, an Evanston resident who believes that Chicago’s politics often span to neighboring cities, share similar views.
“I had the chance to talk to Lori in the beginning of her campaign… she really fights for the people that need to be fought for … She listens more than she talks,” Bergmann said.
As 8 p.m. rolls around, the crowd gets more energetic while people dance with “Lightfoot”
signs in the air while sipping beer and bubbly wine. Each time the precinct posts an update, the crowd roars in solidarity and excitement. Lightfoot is ahead, by 74 percent with Preckwinkle holding tightly to her 24 percent vote. Speakers blare that “We don’t want your money, we just wanna see the world dance,” a down-to earth epitaph that seems to mirror what Lightfoot supporters have to say about her campaign.
However, some supporters weren’t always partial to Lightfoot.
“I voted for the wrong person,” said Gloria Brown, a South Shore Resident on the initial election where she voted for Preckwinkle. “The second time around, I decided to vote for Mrs. Lightfoot… As I got to hear her [Lightfoot] talk she just seems really genuine and down to Earth, like she really sincerely cares.”
For Brown and others, its’ not just about Ligthfoot’s platform, but the feeling that she inspires in them.
At half past 8 p.m., Lightfoot is announced the new Mayor of Chicago, and the ballroom is as lively as it’s ever been as chants turn into roars that reverberate
off the buildings marble staircase. At 9:10, Lightfoot entered the ballroom and the crowd rushed to the bannisters to see her take her rightful place on the stage for a speech that would stand as a part of a historical moment for the city.
“Our differences are nothing compared to what we can achieve together.” Lightfoot said humbly on her win over Preckwinkle. “We are in this together and we will grow together.”
She continued to spread a message of change, growth, and new beginnings for the city.
“We can and will break this city’s’ endless cycle of corruption,” said Lightfoot.
Lightfoot spoke passionately on the need to end gun violence in Chicago, and displacement of people who can no longer afford the city’s rising rent.
Not stopping at local issues, Lightfoot went on to address national concerns such as immigration. “We will make sure that Chicago is a place that will welcome immigrants for the next 150 years,” said Lightfoot, with strength and assurance.
The crowd cheered as Lightfoot’s message moved to her identity as a queer Black woman.
“It doesn’t matter who you love as long as you love with all of your heart,” eruptions of clapping, snapping, and shouts fill the room to no end. “…I have stood on the shoulders of many great Black women.”
As confetti falls through the air, the nights attendees hug and converse, with high spirits as their candidate of choice has finally won. Crowds disperse with warm smiles emptying the last of the glasses and saying their goodbyes.
In the morning the sun will rise, and the city will continue its’ transition into spring—a break from infamous Chicago winters as its’ residents prepare for what they hope will be something warmer and brighter. With new beginnings in abundance, on April 3, the first Black, openly queer, female mayor of Chicago will take her place in office.