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It's a sad day when being a complete jackass may disqualify you from being re-elected Mayor!

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Faces Tough Re-Election Bid

Nation’s third-largest city struggles with crime, recovery from Covid-19 pandemic


Early polls show Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is in a tough race in her bid for re-election next month.


By Joe Barrett, WSJ

Updated Jan. 16, 2023 3:46 pm ET


CHICAGO—Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing stiff competition from a large field of candidates in her re-election bid as Chicago tackles crime and the lingering economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Ms. Lightfoot, a 60-year-old former federal prosecutor, was the first Black woman and first gay person elected mayor of the nation’s third-largest city, winning every city ward in a 2019 runoff against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Now, early polls show the mayor as an underdog in the Feb. 28 election, with the top two vote-getters expected to face off in an April runoff if no candidate wins a majority in the first round.


“I think there is a lot of disappointment in the communities that I represent, about having high hopes for her and being very disappointed in her performance,” said Alderman Tom Tunney, a pro-business restaurant owner in the city’s liberal Lakeview neighborhood, who is retiring from the council at the end of his term and had considered his own mayoral bid.


Ms. Lightfoot faces eight rivals, including six other Black candidates, which could dilute some of her support; U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia (D., Ill.) who is Hispanic; and former schools chief Paul Vallas, who is white.


In 2019, Ms. Lightfoot promised an overhaul of police oversight, more openness and collaboration and investment in all of the city’s neighborhoods, not just the downtown Loop, seeking to contrast herself from her predecessor, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, now serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Japan.


She made progress with the city’s long-term budget issues, but crime has remained a major issue. McDonald’s Corp. moved its headquarters to the city’s West Loop neighborhood in 2018, and its chief executive said in the fall that public-safety problems were a barrier to getting workers to return downtown.


Billionaire Ken Griffin said in June that he would move his hedge-fund firm Citadel LLC and his market-making business Citadel Securities to Miami. He didn’t mention public safety in a letter to employees, but company officials said it was part of the considerations.


Several wealthy neighborhoods have turned to private security patrols to address local concerns about crime. Ms. Lightfoot’s tenure also has been marked by repeated clashes with unions for teachers and police, contributing to low morale and departures from the police force.


Early polling and surveys show her needing to fight to make it into the knockout round, while Mr. Garcia, who vows to unite the city, appears to be the front-runner. Her other chief rivals include Mr. Vallas, who has made public safety central to his campaign, and Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner with strong backing from the teachers union.


“They just are not scientific polls and haven’t done a good job of capturing the electorate of the city,” said Christina Freundlich, spokeswoman for the Lightfoot campaign. “We feel really confident in our strategy and where we’re moving here in the next few weeks.”


Ms. Lightfoot has some key aldermanic endorsements, including from the head of the Black caucus. And she holds a significant fundraising and spending advantage over most of her opponents. Through Jan. 11, she had spent more than three times as much on advertising as her nearest competitor, data from ad-tracking firm AdImpact shows.


The incumbent has spent about $2.1 million so far on ads, while Willie Wilson, a self-funded business owner, has spent about $635,000 and Mr. Vallas has spent about $460,000. Mr. Johnson has spent about $330,000. Mr. Garcia has yet to run an ad.


In her ads, Ms. Lightfoot admitted she is sometimes short-tempered, and highlighted spending on public safety. But she also went negative in an ad citing a campaign donation that Mr. Garcia received from Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, as well as his ties to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is under indictment for corruption.


The Garcia campaign said that “Lori Lightfoot is resorting to more lies and desperate attacks because she knows Chuy Garcia is the only candidate who will defeat her.”


This week, Ms. Lightfoot’s campaign said it would stop sending emails to Chicago Public Schools teachers offering internships for credit to students who volunteered on her campaign, after several of her challengers decried the practice. On Thursday, the inspector general for the schools said it would investigate.


While dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, a surge in crime and a period of unrest following the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ms. Lightfoot earned several upgrades from debt-rating agencies and secured the city’s first casino license, with tax revenue for the project dedicated to pension relief.


She also has sought to reinvigorate neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides, which have faced historical underfunding. Her administration has brought together $2.2 billion in public and private funding for projects in those areas, according to her administration, though some of the projects were in the works before she took office and others have yet to get under way.


“On a lot of projects, you don’t see the results yet, but there is quite a lot of development and actually more than the tourists see,” said Dick Simpson, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Chicago and former alderman, who has endorsed Ms. Lightfoot. He says her administration has been the most progressive since that of Harold Washington in the 1980s.


The campaign also points to record spending on public safety, both in the police department and alternative anti-violence programs. Still, the city has wrestled with a surge in crime in recent years with 804 murders in 2021, the highest level since the 1990s. Murders fell 14% to 694 in 2022, but remained above prepandemic levels.


Mr. Vallas, the former schools chief who has been hammering away on the issue of public safety in the city, recently won an endorsement from the city’s Fraternal Order of Police. The mayor has criticized the FOP president for playing down the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and other matters.


Jaime Dominguez, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, said the endorsement could play to Mr. Vallas’s advantage.


“There’s a perception out there that she’s very stubborn and she doesn’t listen to folks,” he said. “I think Paul Vallas is going to use that endorsement to get out in front of that narrative of being able to work across the aisle.”


Write to Joe Barrett at Joseph.Barrett@wsj.com

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