On Tuesday, February 28, 2023, Chicago held its Mayoral election – or rather, wrapped it up. (Elections today can last for a month and a half, or longer.) When officials had tallied the last ballots, they arrived at a shocking and almost unprecedented result. Lori Lightfoot, the incumbent Mayor of Chicago, lost reelection. Two questions suggest themselves immediately: why did she lose, and will her likely replacement be any better than she?
Lori Lightfoot loses a nine-way race
Lori Lightfoot faced eight other candidates in the Mayor’s race. They included:
- Paul Vallas, a law-and-order candidate having the support of the police unions,
- Brandon Johnson, a Cook County Commissioner commanding the support of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and
- Rep. Jesús Garcia (D-Ill.), who once forced then-Mayor Rahm Emmanuel into a runoff in 2015.
The other five candidates are not worth mentioning, as these three, and Lightfoot, took the first four places. Lightfoot finished third, and Garcia fourth. Vallas and Johnson will advance to the runoff in April.
Lori Lightfoot has arguably the sketchiest record of any Mayor of Chicago since “Scarface” Al Capone and “Bugs” Moran carved up the city between them and fought a quiet civil war that culminated in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre (February 14, 1929). The Mayors of Chicago have always had a reputation for venality. But at least Richard J. Daley, Mayor of Chicago for twenty-one years, kept the streets clean and the trains running. This “Last of the Bosses” died literally with his shoes on, collapsing to the floor at a meeting. After him came a succession of mayors, most of whom kept the city running as well as Daley had. (Daley’s son Richard M. Daley served for 22 years, longer than any other Mayor.)
Lori Lightfoot cannot make the same claim. Crime is crippling, and Lightfoot even asked for federal help with it. Her plan to spend $411 million on housing, public parks, and “holistic” services did not help.
Lori Lightfoot clearly lacked organizational smarts, so she substituted unparalleled arrogance – and a capacity for blaming others. During the “Summer of Love” (2020) she blamed guns that people could bring in from other States. She gladly embraced “defunding the police,” resulting in the crippling crime.
She also locked down her city, as many other Mayors and Governors did in response to COVID-19. Then she broke her own mandates, on masks and on the lockdown itself. Her attempts to enforce a vaccine mandate met with resistance, both passive (only 64 percent of Chicago Police officers reported their vax status) and active (more than 130 firefighters and other city workers sued the city over it).
Thanksgiving weekend of 2021 was the city’s worst. Total homicides passed 1,000 for the first time since 1994.
In one memorable case from February of 2019, police, acting on bad information, raided a woman’s home, restrained her as she was getting ready for bed, and forced her to stand, handcuffed and without any clothes, for forty minutes while an all-male squad conducted a fruitless search for an unknown subject. The city had to settle with her for $2.9 million.
Predictably, after the Great Leak of the first-draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Lori Lightfoot weighed in. She issued a “call to arms” to the LGBTQ+ community (of which she is a member). After the Dobbs opinion, and Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence, came down, she criticized Thomas using very unladylike language.
As Election (Last) Day approached, questions rolled in about how she was running the election. On February 18, she actually told those not inclined to vote for her, not to vote at all. Alice Yin, reporter for The Chicago Tribune, dropped this thread after the rally at which Lightfoot made those remarks.
Later she retracted that statement. But on Sunday afternoon The Daily Mail reported on another potential scandal: inmates voting – under pressure from prison guards. No jurisdiction yet allows convicts to vote. One inmate said a guard told him he was “just doing what I’m told.” In short, the Nuremberg Defense.
With all precincts finally reporting, Vallas claimed 34.9 percent of the vote, and Johnson 20.2 percent. Lori Lightfoot finished third with 16.4 percent. When someone asked her to comment on her loss, she replied:
I’m a black woman in America. Of course.
Indeed, according to The New York Post, she anticipated losing for those very reasons in an interview that The New Yorker published Saturday.
After Lori Lightfoot, who?
Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson are both Democrats, as is every other officeholder in Chicago. Vallas is campaigning on law and order, an easy case to make in Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago. Brandon Johnson is campaigning on typical leftist and socialistic talking points. Interestingly, Vallas has the editorial endorsement of The Chicago Tribune, who praise him for “out-of-the-box thinking.” Johnson claims credit mostly as a union and community organizer.
The runoff will take place on April 14. With Lightfoot out of the running, those two candidates will now get all the attention.
The last Mayor to serve only one term before Lori Lightfoot was Jane Byrne (1979-83). Harold Washington won a second term but died less than two months later. Eugene Sawyer won election to a “rump term,” but Richard M. Daley became Mayor two years later and held the office until 2011.
Notably the Daleys at least kept things running in their city. By all accounts, Chicago today is almost as bad a disaster as is San Francisco. But, as is often the case, people get whom they vote for. On paper, Paul Vallas seems the better candidate. His campaign website promises specific programs, in contrast to Brandon Johnson’s leftist platitudes. Whether Vallas can win – and whether he means what he says – remains for the people of Chicago to see.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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