Lori Lightfoot becomes first Chicago mayor in 40 years to lose re-election

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot lost her re-election bid Tuesday, ending her historic run as the city’s first black woman and the first openly gay person to serve in the post.

The Democratic incumbent failed to garner enough votes in the nine-person race to advance to an April 4 runoff, according to Associated Press projections.

Paul Vallas, a former Chicago schools CEO, will face Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner backed by the Chicago Teachers Union.

Ideologically, the choice between Vallas and Johnson is hard. Vallas ran as a moderate law-and-order candidate, while Johnson ran on an unabashedly progressive agenda.

But Chicagoans sent a message that they wanted change by rejecting both an incumbent mayor and a sitting congressman. Lightfoot is the first elected mayor of Chicago to lose re-election since 1983.

The mayor conceded defeat Tuesday night at her party in downtown Chicago, saying, “Obviously we didn’t win the election today, but I’m standing here with my head held high.”

Lightfoot has experienced persistent crime in the city, which has concerned Chicagoans. Crime has risen during her tenure, though the mayor has repeatedly touted that it is down year-over-year in 2022.

Vallas was widely expected to make it out of the first round of voting, having built his campaign around a tough anti-crime issue and rallying support in the vote-rich north and northwest sides of the city. He also won the support of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.

“We’re going to have a safe Chicago. We’re going to make Chicago the safest city in America,” he said after his victory Tuesday night.

Mayoral candidate Paul Vallas at a press conference in Chicago on February 3.Scott Olson/Getty Images

It’s a bitter end to a tumultuous tenure for Lightfoot, who quickly developed an image as a national lightning rod for conservatives and repeatedly clashed with vested interests, from the Chicago Teachers Union to the media and police. She has at times been praised for her handling of the pandemic, but has seen violent riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer.

Lightfoot faced heavy odds and risked an early re-election knockout. Having lost the support she once had in Chicago’s lakefront neighborhoods and with major labor unions working against her, Lightfoot was among seven black candidates competing for votes among the city’s black population. But he faced stiff competition, particularly from Johnson, who had the support and organizational benefits of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union, as well as Willie Wilson, a black businessman who polled ahead of Johnson.

Lightfoot’s negative ratings have skyrocketed with Chicagoans fed up with gun violence, as well as carjackings and robberies. And despite being the incumbent mayor, she has typically failed to lead in recent polls, falling behind Vallas and Democratic Rep. Chui Garcia. Later in the election, she specifically targeted Johnson, which many took as a sign that her internal numbers were pointing to him as a growing threat to her candidacy.

On the crime issue, under Lightfoot, Chicago in 2021 reached its highest number of murders in a quarter century, with 797 and more than 3,500 shootings — that’s 1,400 more shootings than in 2019, when Lightfoot took office for the first time. Lightfoot noted that the violence by the end of last year had subsided.

But that hasn’t eased concerns among Chicagoans. A recent poll said 63% of Chicagoans said they don’t feel safe.

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