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Post Chicago Mayoral Primary: Lightfoot vs Preckwinkle in Run-Off
Created by John Eipper on 02/28/19 9:26 AM

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Chicago Mayoral Primary: Lightfoot vs Preckwinkle in Run-Off (David Duggan, USA, 02/28/19 9:26 am)

Chicagoans are facing the reality that, for the first time in recorded history, a major city in the western hemisphere will have a black woman mayor. Former Assistant US Attorney Lori Lightfoot and current Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made the April run-off after an anything-goes primary race featuring 14 candidates. As my father might have said, with the diversity of choices to govern the nation's 3rd most populous city (soon to be 4th, as Houston will likely eclipse it in the 2020 census), nobody could say he was cheated. But since neither Lightfoot nor Preckwinkle garnered more than 18 percent of the vote, who will win the real election remains anyone's guess.

In addition to the plethora of candidates, this primary was significant for the low turnout. Fewer than 35 percent of the electorate showed up at the polls (unlike the 2018 general election when 56 percent of Chicagoans showed up, and marginally more than the 2015 Chicago mayoral primary when 32% made the effort). One might think that, with all those choices and the likelihood that small margins would make the difference, more people would have shown up, but the contrary narrative: that in the aggregate, the choices were between Tweedledum and Tweedledummer, so that it didn't really matter, evidently prevailed. Business would be as usual in Chicago, with aldermen controlling their fiefdoms, and the police running amok among the citizens. Everybody was for a $15 job-killing minimum wage, an end to "gun violence," better schools, more "transparency" in government, an end to "politics as usual," and belief in a city that all citizens could be proud of. Listening to the incessant ads aired since before Christmas was like living in an echo chamber. Nobody was advocating, for instance, declaring a municipal bankruptcy to relieve Chicagoans of their $36,000 per person unfunded pension liability, or an "open carry" regime to counter-act Chicago's abysmal 17% homicide "clearance rate," meaning that if you blow somebody away with your illegal weapon, you have a one-in-six chance of being caught and prosecuted.

There are of course a number of curiosities worthy of note: for the first time in this millennium, a Daley on the ballot lost an election. Bill, brother of King Richard II and son of Richard I ran 3rd in the race, reinforcing the view that he's always going to be the first mate on the Titanic (he was Al Gore's 2000 campaign manager, and Obama's chief of staff before getting fired in anticipation of the 2012 election). Running school systems doesn't cut it when fewer than half of Chicagoans have or had children in the public schools: both Paul Vallas and Gery Chico ran the Chicago public school system for a time. Hispanics are not the political force everyone has been saying they are. State comptroller Susana Mendoza (she had been re-elected in November to a 4-year term) couldn't shorten her commute from 3 hours to Springfield to half-an-hour to City Hall; Chico's and her vote totals wouldn't have put her in the finals. Being tarred with the Ed Burke brush was not a career-killer (Preckwinkle--known less than affectionately as "Taxwinkle" because of her "soda tax" which benefitted grocery stores just over the county line, had received thousands of dollars from the soon-to-be-indicted Burke--though she claimed to have returned it). And being part of a bi-racial or same-sex couple doesn't kill your elective chances. Lori is married to Amy Eshleman, a closely cropped librarian who towers over her. Toni, easily 6'1" is divorced from her equally tall husband of 44 years: Zeus. Contrast this with Obama who was told that marrying outside his race would be a political career-killer.

On the surface, the run-off will be billed as a contest between the "progressive" Lightfoot, and the "machine" Preckwinkle, but it may be more subtle. Lightfoot has never held elective office, while Preckwinkle has been a political fixture for the last 30 years, representing Obama's Hyde Park ward in the Chicago City Council before vaulting to head up the Cook County Board in 2010. There she presides over the largest jail in the country, known as "County," where she has reduced the inmate population from 10,000 to 6,000. Because of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's closing of community mental health clinics, County is also the largest mental health facility in the state. Homeless people charged with petty crimes like loitering or panhandling who can't "make bail," are routinely housed in County's open-cell-block wards. Like Mendoza, Preckwinkle was re-elected three months ago. No wonder people are so fed up with politics: the silly season never ends.

There were some interesting aldermanic elections, but the big news is that soon-to-be-federal-jailbird Burke avoided a run-off with a 54% vote total in his southwest side 14th ward. He will start his 51st year on the City Council waiting for a trial date on his corruption charges. Closer to my home, four-termer Tom Tunney won 64% of the vote, beating back two candidates put up by the Ricketts family which owns the Cubs, the principal occupant of his ward.

Lightfoot campaigned on her reputation as a corruption-fighting prosecutor, and she was also head of Richard II's "Office of Professional Standards," the "civilian police board" which voted on firings for misconduct. Through her two-year tour, she sometimes sided with the cops and sometimes not; there doesn't appear to be a pattern to her decisions. In her private practice at politically connected Mayer Brown (former Sen. Adlai Stevenson III was a partner there) she also represented claimants against the City alleging police brutality and on behalf of one she received a $22.5 million settlement. Not a bad $7.5 million payday. During Lightfoot's "half-victory" speech, she commended her "LBGTQ-plus" campaign. Though I live only a mile from "Boystown," I had to look up the "plus" end of that acronym, and according to the "elite daily" website, it:

"may be open to some interpretation. The addition of this symbol has come to be extremely important due to its expansive meaning. So what exactly does it mean? Well, quite simply put: The ‘plus' stands for love, acceptance, and the embracing of all."

I guess we have come a long way, Baby.

JE comments:  A thousand apologies for today's late start.  WAISworld was uncooperative all morning.  We may have been "down" but never out.  And what better way to kick off the day than with a Chicago post from David Duggan?  Nobody does a better job of dissecting politics and sports.  And in Chicago, politics is nothing if not a full-contact sport.

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