City Hall culture tiresome, Lightfoot as mayor likely
by RUSS STEWART
Numbers don’t lie. And the numbers from the city Feb. 26 mayoral primary paint a truly stunning picture. Voters essentially said: "We do not want this horse (expletive) anymore at City Hall."
Voters said enough. Just fix these problems before they get more unfixable. And if you don’t, then you’re out-the-door at the next election. People want change.
And that is why Lori Lightfoot will be the next mayor.
The city’s population is 2,707,120, and there are currently 1,581,755 registered voters, of whom 540,784 turned out in the primary, or 34.2 percent. Lightfoot came in first in the 14-candidate field with 97,650 votes, or 17.5 percent, and Toni Preckwinkle came in second with 89,322, or 16.1 percent.
Think about those numbers: 82.5 percent of those who voted did not vote for Lightfoot, and 83.9 percent of those who voted did not vote for Preckwinkle, the well-known county board president.
nd if the registered voter pool is factored in, that means that almost 1.4 million voters or non-voters chose not to vote for Lightfoot or Preckwinkle. That’s democracy, and somewhere around 1,040,000 chose not to vote by their feet, by not walking into their polling place or early voting. Citywide turnout was 888,614 in the 2018 Pritzker-Rauner governor’s race, and 1,090,343 in the 2016 Trump-Clinton contest.
Chicagoans on both occasions resoundingly rejected whom they perceived as the "most worst" candidate, with Rauner getting 15.2 percent and Trump 12.4 percent. The Feb. 26 election and the upcoming April 2 choice was/is not so clear-cut. Who is the "most worst" candidate?
That is why 2019 turnout was so anemic. And it will be again on April 2. But Lightfoot will be victorious because Chicagoans have finally arrived at the point where they want fundamental change in their system of governance, and that won’t happen with Preckwinkle, the county Democratic chairman, as mayor.
It will just be more of the same old, same old. The same people will be in charge. Their thinking will remain inside the box. Their "solutions" will perpetually be to raise taxes, run up debt and expand government, and the city council will remain a rubber stamp, servile to the mayor. Truth be told, if Preckwinkle is the mayor, then Commissioner John Daley will likely be the next county board president.
With two black women competing for mayor there is no racial subtext, as would have been the case in a Daley-Preckwinkle or a Daley-Lightfoot runoff. Instead it is an older insider establishment woman versus a younger gay outsider woman. And Preckwinkle will have the $3 million she needs to demonize Lightfoot, an attack mode already underway. Preckwinkle cannot plausibly give Chicagoans any valid reasons to vote FOR her, so she has to go negative and give Chicagoans some valid reasons to vote against Lightfoot. For someone who’s been around as long as Preckwinkle, dating back to the 1970s, that’s a pathetic state of affairs. Her whole campaign mantra can be summarized as: "DON’T VOTE FOR HER (LIGHTFOOT) BECAUSE SHE WILL BE WORSE THAN ME."
And for Chicagoans, as they contemplate their choice, there will be no tangible fear factor. Lightfoot as mayor will be checkmated by a newly-empowered city council, with conservative pro-police aldermen like Nicholas Sposato, Anthony Napolitano and Jim Gardiner on one side, and four or more "democratic socialists" on the other side, and a whole bunch of aldermen who will be jockeying to run for mayor in 2023, plus a whole lot of new city commissioners. The council will be a circus, where important issues are debated and decisions not pre-ordained, city government in tolerable chaos, and maybe a few people thinking outside the box.
Unlike Preckwinkle, Lightfoot won’t spend 4 years building a machine to get herself re-elected. In fact, a Lightfoot win would signal the demise of the current Democratic machine as we know it, opening up the political process to a lot of new people with new ideas.
My prediction: There has been no proverbial circling-of-the-wagons by pro-establishment, status quo voters. There is no save-us-from-that-radical (Lightfoot) mentality. Instead, voters are pretty much pissed off. And the best way to send that signal is to elect Lightfoot. She may not be the "change" that white, Hispanic, non-liberal, non-gay voters want, but she is a change that is needed. Lightfoot, in a turnout of barely 600,000, will defeat Preckwinkle 58-42 percent.
Here are a few takeaways from the primary:
Hispanic turnout was anemic: There are 13 Hispanic-majority wards, with an overall citywide population of about 600,000. Susana Mendoza was supposed to be the breakout star of 2019, positioning herself as the "future" candidate – young, female, Hispanic. She flopped. She got just 50,561 votes, or 9.1 percent. Turnout in no Hispanic ward topped 10,000, and she got 50-60 percent, to Chico’s 30-35 percent, in those wards.
Black turnout was anemic too, and there were too many overlaps among the five black contenders: Lightfoot (97,650 votes), Preckwinkle (89,322), Willie Wilson (59,067), Amara Enyia (44,584) and La Shawn Ford (5,605). That’s almost 300,000 votes, but it didn’t necessarily come from the 20 black-majority wards, where turnout averaged 12-15,000 in each. Lightfoot was the edgy candidate who ran well among north Lakefront white liberals. Enyia was the edgy Millennial who ran well among younger black and white voters. Wilson was popular among older, churchgoing females, as he has donated a lot of money to churches over the years. As a result, Preckwinkle’s racial base was splintered and unmotivated.
White guys finish last: Bill Daley, in the final tabulations, trailed Preckwinkle by 7,045 votes, getting 82,277, or 14.8 percent. For a Daley, and for somebody having spent $8 million-plus, that’s embarrassing. Everyone watches the polls, and a Daley-Preckwinkle runoff loomed, but the tipping point was the Operating Engineers’ massive infusion of money for ads highlighting a $1 million donation by a backer of Rauner. Daley’s base crumbled. Plus the other white guys – Jerry Joyce Jr. (40,094 votes), Paul Vallas (30,234) and Garry McCarthy (14,761) took about 85,000 votes away from him. The mayoral race was Daley’s to lose, and he lost it.
IN OTHER NEWS: Newly-elected 45th Ward alderman Jim Gardiner intends to run for ward Democratic committeeman against John Arena in 2020. Gardiner beat Arena 7,554-5,370 on Feb. 26. "I intend to finish the job" of ending Arena’s reign, Gardiner told me.
Word is Arena handed over the use of his campaign office on Milwaukee Avenue to Lightfoot, most likely fishing for a commissioner gig, if Lightfoot gets elected. Talk about a flip-flop. I thought he supported Preckwinkle.
Word also is that Lightfoot reportedly changed her mind and won’t be using that office. But who knows. Anything can happen between now and election day.
Arena is also inflaming the city public sector unions such as the SEIU, AFSCME and CTU, who donated heavily to him in the past, and are heavily invested in Preckwinkle. As disclosed in a previous column, State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) is in line to be appointed to a Circuit Court judgeship in the 10th subcircuit. His likely successor, who will be named by the Democratic committeemen from the 10th District, is Norwood Park Township committeeman Frank Avino Jr. a protege of state Representative Rob Martwick (D-19). Arena, however, may want that appointment.