University of Michigan alum Lori Lightfoot won Chicago’s mayoral race Tuesday night, making her the first Black woman to be elected to the position. With Lightfoot’s victory, Chicago is now on track to become the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor.
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, beat out Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president, in a landslide victory. The two emerged from a field of a dozen candidates to compete in Tuesday’s runoff election.
Lightfoot, who has never held elected office, said she looked forward to taking on the role, noting Preckwinkle’s efforts to portray her as a political novice.
“I feel very humbled and honored,” Lightfoot said. “I’m going to do everything I can to earn it. We were hoping, based on our polling, that we would do really well. But, this is amazing. More than I ever dreamed of. People really wanted change. They were very troubled by the negative tone of the Preckwinkle campaign. Now, people have new hope for a new beginning.”
Lightfoot received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University, graduating with honors in 1984. According to her campaign website, Lightfoot “paid her own way through college with loans and a series of work-study jobs” and went on to get her law degree from the University of Chicago.
Law professor Barbara McQuade tweeted her support, noting Lightfoot’s time as a resident adviser at Bursley Hall in the 1980s.
“Hey, Chicago! Here’s your chance to elect a tremendous leader, @LightfootForChi,” McQuade tweeted. “I have known and respected Lori Lightfoot since she was an RA in Bursley Hall at @Umich. She solved problems with great integrity then, and has spent 3 decades learning and serving. Vote for Lori.”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald congratulated Lightfoot on her victory.
“It's always gratifying to see our graduates succeed at the highest levels, especially for those who choose public service,” Fitzgerald said.
LSA senior Maddie Sinder, a resident of Chicago, said Lightfoot’s win has the ability to inspire change in the city.
“This is an exciting time in Chicago politics,” Singler said. “In such a competitive mayoral race, it is remarkable that a candidate willing to stick to her convictions could rise to victory. I believe that Lightfoot has the political ability and determination to make a positive difference in Chicago… Her focus on inclusion and helping the underserved will promote substantive progress for our city.”
The election saw low voter turnout, with only 35 percent of registered voters showing up to the polls. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lightfoot won over a majority of demographics, including white, Black and Hispanic voters, a group reminiscent of the “rainbow coalition” that helped elect the city’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983.
Business sophomore Hollya Israil, a resident of Chicago, said she was excited to see Lightfoot win.
“I think electing Lori Lightfoot is significant for Chicago, especially for a city that is stereotypically known to be segregated, and feel as if her strong background as a diverse lawyer resonates with residents concerned with City Hall corruption and low-income/working class minority groups being left behind in political decision-making because she is a supporter of neighborhood school improvements, expanding housing affordability, job expansions and other social issues that divide the population,” Israil said.
Lightfoot will succeed two-term mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Barack Obama. Emanuel decided not to seek re-election as his approval ratings dropped in recent years, due in large part to anger over the city’s response to the 2014 police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
During Emanuel’s tenure, Lightfoot led a task force that pushed for broad changes to the Chicago Police Department to combat discrimination. On the campaign trail, she pledged to reform policing in the city and root out abuses of power by law enforcement. She also touted her understanding of the inner workings of city government.
“I think I’ve had a lot of experience in helping run most challenging city agencies,” Lightfoot said. “I have a very deep knowledge of how the city works, both from that experience, and also I helped a lot of different individuals in business navigate a lot of byzantine processes in the city.”