National Spotlight: Preckwinkle, Lightfoot slated for prominence among African -American female mayors
As mayor of the nation’s third largest city, the winner of the April 2 runoff will be quickly thrust into the spotlight, outfitted with a large megaphone to call for reforms on issues they’ve made a major part of their respective campaign platforms.
No matter who wins the April 2 mayoral runoff, Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle will make history as Chicago’s first female African-American mayor, joining a small group of women of color leading urban cities across the country.
Of the largest 100 cities in the U.S., only ten are represented by women of color, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics. Of those, seven are black -- Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Charlotte Mayor Vi Alexander Lyles and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
As mayor of the nation’s third largest city, Lightfoot or Preckwinkle will be quickly thrust into the spotlight, outfitted with a large megaphone to call for reforms on issues they’ve made a major part of their respective campaign platforms: improving the city’s schools, reforming the criminal justice system, increasing affordable housing options and fostering a better relationship with the city’s LGBTQ community, among others.
But to do many of these things, they’ll have to not only work with members of Chicago’s City Council, but also with members of the General Assembly in Springfield and the Trump administration.
“Criminal justice reform requires working with very local players as well as national ones, and horizontally over all three branches of government,” said Paula Wolff, director of the Illinois Justice Project.
In both Chicago and Springfield, much of the power has been held by the same white men for decades.
Alderman Ed Burke and Alderman Pat O’Connor have served 50 and 35 years, respectively.
In Springfield, House Speaker Michael Madigan has served since 1971, Senate President John Cullerton since 1979, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin since 1995 and Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady since 1993.
A piece of advice from the Illinois Legislature’s first - and only - female caucus leader:
“You can’t get distracted by your uniqueness,” said Christine Radogno, of Lemont, who served as Senate Republican leader from 2009 to 2017. ”You can’t focus on yourself as the first female, the first African American female or have that be the filter with which you approach things… you have to find common ground.”
An analysis by the Center for Illinois Politics finds Preckwinkle has established more traditional connections with Springfield politicians through her work as Cook County Board President, but Lightfoot has also made allies on state policy issues through her years serving on nonprofit boards such as the Better Government Association and the ACLU of Illinois.
“Preckwinkle has the support of many lawmakers in this race, for example, and she has been on the political scene for decades. Her strong union and party ties will help her here,” said the Center’s Christopher Z. Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Lightfoot will need to work to develop these connections, although any mayor of Chicago is going to get lawmakers’ attention to some extent just because of the office. Lightfoot also may face some skepticism in Springfield toward good government types — something that is a double-edged sword for her in the election, too,” he added.
Preckwinkle, who is also chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, has been endorsed by at least a half dozen members of the legislature and a half dozen more have sent her checks ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.
Service employee unions, which carry heavy clout at the state Capitol, have funded the bulk of Preckwinkle’s campaign, donating nearly $4 million. Fred Eychaner, a Democratic mega-donor behind the push for Illinois to legalize gay marriage in 2013, gave her $400,000.
Lightfoot, meanwhile, has a number of endorsements from Chicago aldermen, but fewer from state lawmakers. In contrast to Preckwinkle, her primary connections to Springfield and policy-making come in the form of serving on nonprofit boards. They include the Center for Wrongful Convictions and Reform for Illinois.
Lightfoot’s top campaign contributions from philanthropic donors and nonprofits include Leslie Bluhm, the co-founder of Chicago Cares, who gave $112,500; Change Chicago Inc., which gave $40,000, and DePaul College Prep President Mary Dempsey, who gave $54,776. On Wednesday, Lightfoot scored her first major check from a heavy hitter in the city’s business community: $100,000 from Madison Dearborn’s John Canning.
“There’s an opportunity to have a mayor not only with connections but with an understanding of the depth and breadth of the issues,” Wolff said.
As both women build their war chests and refine their messages in the coming weeks, here’s a look at each candidate’s top campaign priorities, and the relationships she would need with Springfield to have them implemented:
Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot support Chicago Public Schools having an elected school board.
This change would require amending state law, an issue Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he also supported during his campaign.
Both candidates also seek a boost in funding to implement programs, like increasing early childhood education.
Lightfoot also wants support for restoring state-subsidized CTA fares for Chicago Public School students.
Both candidates have identified a need for expanded police accountability and oversight.
Preckwinkle wants Attorney General Kwame Raoul to file suit against Indiana for its role in gun proliferation in Chicago.
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, wants to increase federal enforcement of gun laws. She also wants to better align the Chicago Police Department with state and federal law enforcement and the state’s attorney’s office to increase clearance rates and prevent costly post-conviction appeals.
Both candidates have cited a need to expand affordable housing in Chicago. Lightfoot wants more investment from state and federal agencies, including the Illinois Housing Development Authority and HUD.
Preckwinkle says Chicago “needs to be a national leader when it comes to LGBTQ inclusivity” and would require that all city agencies and all city contractors have transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage. She also says she is committed to hiring LGBTQ workers throughout city government and requiring cultural competency training for city agencies and contractors.
Lightfoot, who describes herself as “an out and proud black lesbian,” says she’ll appoint mayoral LGBTQ liasons to work with community members in all corners of the city. She also pledges to “bolster safety and justice for the trans community” through her police reform agenda, which includes properly investigating hate crimes.
Note: The Center for Illinois Politics is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing clear, fact-based information to encourage more Illinoisans to be active in politics. This article has been reviewed by a bipartisan panel of former lawmakers, political analysts and academics to ensure its nonpartisan nature.
Contact Kerry Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Lightfoot and Preckwinkle campaigns, Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.
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