Lightfoot likely loser in runoff in April 2023
It’s all about who is in second place. The second-best means being better than all the rest of the candidates in Chicago’s 2023 mayoral election. Sort of like a racing trifecta: Win, place, show – except that “show” is meaningless next Feb. 28, as Bill Daley discovered in 2019. “Place” in February likely means a “win” on April 4.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Feb. 28 will likely “win,” as in running first in the multi-candidate primary. But the burgeoning field of up to 15 candidates (see chart) are all focused on “place,” which means being Lightfoot’s one-on-one April runoff opponent, most likely Chuy Garcia or Pat Quinn, if they announce their candidacies And that means one will be the city’s next mayor. Lightfoot will not win a second term.
The fact that more than a dozen aspirants want to take on an incumbent mayor is unprecedented, especially given the mayor’s power to fund-raise and control the city agenda. There were 14 candidates in 2019, but that was an open seat. Incumbents back to the 1990s usually had a few nuisance foes, and Democratic primaries before then, dating back to the early 1900s, never had more than 3-4 candidates. So what’s wrong with Lightfoot?
Polling suggests that the mayor is neither likeable nor popular. She seems arrogant, egotistical, intolerant and crude. And that’s probably being charitable. She allegedly once stated that she had the biggest penis in Chicago, “bigger than you and the Italians,” when discussing the controversial Columbus statue. Lightfoot is an accidental mayor, getting just 17.5 percent in the 2019 primary. Few Chicagoans want 4 more years.
SO WITH THE primary 5 months away, Lightfoot’s predicament ranges from (a) ominous, (b) dire, (c) foreboding or (d) all of the above. Let’s go with (d). The mayor had $2,548,910 on-hand on June 30, and raised $400,000 in the 3rd quarter. She will need $5 million, so unions and city contractors will have to kick-in ASAP.
But what good is money absent a message? Is Chicago better today than in 2019? Is crime under control? Are schools improving? Is Chicago a place where businesses thrive, rents and homes are affordable and tourists flock? Or where somebody wants to be a cop? Sure, she can blame COVID, or guns, or Trump, or even racism and sexism. But if the city’s quality of life is getting worse, voters will BLAME her. Even if it’s not her fault, as she may say.
A Sept. 5 Bendixen/Armandi poll had Lightfoot up 25-24 over Garcia, a second-term congressman who got 43.8 percent against Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 runoff, with Quinn at 6 percent, and 2019 losers Willie Wilson and Paul Vallas at 13 and 9, respectively, with undecided at 23. The poll also indicated that Lightfoot’s overall approve/disapprove was at 44/54, with strongly/somewhat approve at 17/27 and strongly/somewhat disapprove at 28/26, and the city “wrong track” being 55 percent. Crime was rated the top issue by 44 percent.
Among African-American voters it was 33/19/14 for Lightfoot/Wilson/Garcia; among Whites it was 23/22/16 for Garcia/Lightfoot/Vallas; and among Hispanics it was 48/23/5 for Garcia/Lightfoot/Vallas. Clearly, Lightfoot’s Black base is tenuous, definitely under 40 percent, while Garcia would get 50-60 percent of the Latino vote. He would definitely be competitive among White voters who don’t like Lightfoot and who voted for her in 2019’s runoff only because they liked Toni Preckwinkle even less. An Impact Research poll, taken last March, showed Lightfoot losing 45-35 to Mike Quigley, who is not running.
Which begs the question: What is Lightfoot’s base? In Chicago’s world of identity politics a single base (race) has been supplanted by a multiplicity of bases, like ideology, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and geography. Overlaps now matter. The city’s population is roughly 40/30/30 for White/Black/Hispanic but 48/30/19 for voters. Of the 12 credible 2019 mayoral aspirants, the breakout was White (6), Black (4), Hispanic (2), Women (4), Men (8), LGBTQ (1); the goal was to amass 20-25 percent overall by getting a 25-30 piece of each.
Of the 15 actual or potential 2023 candidates (see chart) the breakout to-date is Black (9), White (4), Hispanic (2), LGBTQ (3), Men (13), Women (2). The field will thin somewhat before the Nov. 28 filing deadline, when a minimum of 12,500 nominating petition signatures are needed, probably about 25,000 to withstand a challenge. Tunney and Hopkins will likely bail. Quinn is circulating and Johnson, will file. The CTU just gave him about $60,000 as a campaign contribution.
There is growing panic among Black politicians, and among Lightfoot strategists, that 9 is a very bad number and that the Black vote, arguably about 135,000, will be so fractionalized as to be irrelevant. Also that the mayor’s Black primary vote could be as low as 20 percent. But the real focus of anticipation is on Garcia, who has promised a decision by mid-October. Garcia, a Mexican-American South Sider, has stature, high citywide name ID, and cross-identity appeal. But he is age 66, a junior congressman, and will be in the House minority in 2023., if the Republicans takeover. So his choice is stark: Be mayor now or spend a decade in Washington. A group called Neustro PAC is pushing him hard, claiming he would be among the nation’s most influential Latinos if mayor.
A source close to Quinn, governor from 2009-2014, said Quinn is circulating petitions and polling, but has not hired a campaign team. “He’s running,” said the source. Quinn lives in Galewood in the 29th Ward and would be the city’s first Northwest Side mayor ever. He will be age 74 in December, is certainly a retread, has lost 6 of 11 elections dating back to 1982 (all 6 statewide) and is not an avid fund-raiser.
But he has near-universal name recognition, is likeable, is viewed positively by voters as honest and trustworthy, has been on the ballot 11 times in 40 years, has goodwill in the African-America community, and is the epitome of persistence.
In the 8-candidate 2018 primary for attorney general Quinn lost to state senator Kwame Raoul, but finished second in Chicago, getting 100,271 votes (mostly White), or 23.1 percent, to Raoul’s 165,425 votes (mostly Black), or 36.1 percent, in a 434,957 turnout – which was 100,000 lower than the 523,804 2019 runoff turnout. In the 2010 governor primary Quinn narrowly beat Dan Hynes statewide, but won Chicago 185,735-154,657, getting 54.6 percent and winning all the city’s minority wards.
Quinn’s polling puts Lightfoot in the low 30s in the primary and him up 45-35 in a runoff.
Other candidates have created minimal stir and negligible excitement. Wilson is running his usual campaign. Ray Lopez is running a hybrid Latino/LGBTQ/law-and-order campaign.
The candidate with breakout potential is county Commissioner Brandon Johnson.
Wilson in 2019 got 10.6 percent, and Vallas 5.4. If all the other second-tier candidates come in at 3-6 percent, that’s over 45 percent. There is thus far an anti-Lightfoot void, which either Garcia or Quinn will fill. Lightfoot’s only hope is to run against somebody more flawed than she. That is not and will not happen. 2023 is a referendum on the mayor.
Read more Analysis & Opinion from Russ Stewart at Russstewart.com
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