AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
On Tuesday, Lori Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor in more than 40 years to lose reelection, finishing in third place in a nine-candidate field. After attracting fawning mainstream media coverage in 2019 for being the first Black woman and first openly gay person to lead the nation’s third largest city – as well as for her outspoken opposition to former President Donald Trump – Lightfoot’s tenure was marred by numerous scandals, rampant government incompetence, and soaring violent crime that ultimately left her on the receiving end of voters’ ire.
Lightfoot’s ouster represents a stunning fall from grace for a candidate who won all 50 wards four years ago. After securing nearly 74 percent of the vote in the 2019 general election, many observers assumed Lightfoot would cruise to another easy victory this year. However, the 60-year-old Ohio native fell nearly 17,000 votes short of the second-place finisher, Cook County Board member Brandon Johnson, who received 20.3 percent of the overall ballots cast.
The top vote-getter at 33.8 percent was Paul Vallas, a former public school executive who notably expressed more conservative views on policing and made public safety a central pillar of his campaign. Vallas and Johnson will face off in an April 4 runoff.
Lightfoot initially appeared to be an ascendant figure within the Democratic Party ahead of her election as mayor in 2019. As a Black LGBTQ woman, she was a natural fit for a Democrat Party obsessed with identity politics. The former federal prosecutor was also a vehement critic of Donald Trump, variously publicly blaming the former President for mass shootings, saying that “racism is part of who he is,” accusing Trump of “not respecting the law,” and even lobbing a coded F-bomb at the president during a press conference.
But cable news pot shots don’t govern cities, and signs soon emerged that Lightfoot was far from the visionary leader the media and Democratic establishment billed her as. Soon after taking office, Lightfoot found herself in a spat with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union that left parents frustrated and teachers feeling slighted.
Lightfoot’s leadership failures continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the city imposed some of the strictest lockdowns anywhere in the country. In April 2020, Lightfoot was caught violating her own quarantine rules to get a haircut. Instead of apologizing, Lightfoot defended the decision with perhaps the most tone-deaf response imaginable, saying that she “takes her hygiene very seriously,” and is “the public face of this city,” so the rules don’t apply to her. The comments drew sharp rebukes from residents and other city leaders, including many fellow Democrats.
At the same time, schools in Chicago remained closed longer than almost anywhere else in the country. As late as the spring of 2022, many schools were still shut down. In October 2021, the mayor’s office also sued the Fraternal Order of Police over its opposition to the city’s vaccine policy, which required that all public officials report their vaccination status. Chicago did not remove all mask and vaccine mandates for private businesses until February 2022.
Lightfoot’s tenure has also been marred by a number of other damaging and sometimes bizarre incidents that likely left voters questioning her fitness for office.
In June 2021, for example, Lightfoot came under fire for sending a deranged email berating a staffer for not blocking off enough “office time” in her daily schedule. (City Hall has reportedly struggled to retain staff throughout Lightfoot’s tenure.) In another Zoom rant revealed as part of a lawsuit against her, Lightfoot allegedly screamed at a city lawyer that she has the “biggest d*** in Chicago” and questioned his credentials. A cringe-worthy campaign ad from November of last year that features Lightfoot rapping about her supposed successes drew head scratches from both sides of the political aisle.
But it was rising violent crime in Chicago that ultimately sparked the most pushback to Lightfoot’s agenda and sealed her fate in Tuesday’s election. Following anti-police protests and widespread rioting that broke out in the wake of the death of George Floyd in 2020, Lightfoot pledged to cut $80 million from the police budget and further embraced the radical Defund the Police movement. When a city alderman questioned her response to the riots, Lightfoot told him that he was “full of s***.”
Lightfoot’s policies predictably led to a surge in violent crime throughout Chicago. 2021 marked a 20-year high in murders in the city, forcing Lightfoot to plead with the federal government to send more resources after she gutted her own police department. While homicides dipped slightly in 2022, other crimes like armed robbery and carjackings continued to rise.
With public backlash mounting, Lightfoot desperately attempted an about-face at the end of her campaign, hypocritically accusing Johnson of wanting to “cut your police” and appearing at several campaign events with police leaders by her side. But it was too late, and the move only served to alienate progressive voters.
However, despite the clear rejection of Lightfoot’s failures as mayor, there are some signs that Chicagoans may not yet be done with her failed brand of politics. Though the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s contest, Paul Vallas, has earned the endorsement of local police unions and promised to clean up crime, second-place finisher Brandon Johnson is a progressive Democrat in the mold of Lightfoot. Assuming those who voted for Lightfoot and 4th-place finisher Jesús G. García, a far-left U.S. House member, cast their votes for the more liberal Johnson in the runoff, the Windy City may yet again find itself under the control of a far-left Democrat.
Moreover, Chicagoans still have a radical left-wing governor, J.B Pritzker, and Cook County State Attorney, Kim Foxx, who have played a perhaps even greater role in turning the city into a dystopian nightmare. Until voters reject progressive ideology wholesale, and not just one eccentric adherent to it, Chicago will likely continue to suffer.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.