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Lori Lightfoot Becomes Nation’s 1st Black Lesbian Mayor After Beating Toni Preckwinkle

Lightfoot is also the city's first openly gay mayor.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot addresses supporters on April 2, 2019 after a landslide victory.
Brittany Sowacke / Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — Lori Lightfoot became Chicago’s new mayor in a landslide victory over opponent Toni Preckwinkle.

Lightfoot had about 74 percent of the vote to Preckwinkle’s 26 percent with about 93 percent of precincts reporting.

The historic matchup between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle meant, regardless of the result, Chicago would have its first black woman mayor. Lightfoot is now also the city’s first openly gay mayor and the only black lesbian mayor in the United States.

“Every child out there should know this: Each of you, one day, can be the mayor of Chicago. Want to know why? Just look right here,” Lightfoot said while poking her chest during a victory speech Tuesday night. “One day, you will stand on my shoulders as I stand on the shoulders of so many.”

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Lightfoot said the commanding victory signaled a “mandate for change.”

Chicago must stop shrinking to survive, she said, and she’ll work to support small businesses, protect immigrants, end gun violence in the city and “break this city’s endless cycle of corruption.”

“… We can and we will make our streets, all of our streets, safe again. We can and we will give every single one of our children, all of our children, access to the high-quality education they deserve,” Lightfoot said. “We can and we will give our neighborhoods, all of our neighborhoods, the same time and attention that we give the Downtown.”

But Lightfoot also noted few expected her to win when she started her campaign a year ago. Preckwinkle was long considered the favorite in the race, and the two candidates had to beat out 11 others — including Bill Daley — in an open mayoral race to get to the runoff.

It wasn’t until the late February runoff when focus shifted sharply to Lightfoot and experts and polls began predicting she’d win.

Lightfoot said it’d taken faith to campaign as she had been up against “powerful interests, a powerful machine and a powerful mayor,” she said. But her victory started a “movement for change,” she said.

Some agreed, with Dick Simpson, a former alderman, saying Lightfoot’s win meant “the machine is nearly dead.”

Others were more critical: Activists, particularly young people of color, had spoken out against Lightfoot, former president of the Chicago Police Board, in the weeks before the runoff due to her policies on police and criminal justice. On Election Day, they vowed to organize and push back against Lightfoot policies they don’t support.

Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, said despite her defeat she still believes “in the power of public service” and will continue dedicating her life to it and pushing for progressive policies.

“… This is clearly a historic night,” Preckwinkle said during a speech Tuesday. “Not long ago, two African American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable.”

The hotly contested mayoral race marked only the fourth time in the last 100 years there’s been an open race for mayor in Chicago. The only other times Chicago has had an open mayoral race in recent history were in 1943, 1947 and 2011, when Rahm Emanuel avoided a runoff and won outright in Round One.

Credit: Lori Lightfoot/Facebook
Lori Lightfoot walks in the 2018 Chicago Pride Parade.
Credit: Toni for Chicago/Facebook
Toni Preckwinkle poses with kids on Election Day.