Chicago’s Lightfoot faces competitive re-election bid over crime fallout ahead of Thursday’s debate

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing a competitive re-election bid ahead of Thursday’s debate with a large field of opposing candidates expected to challenge what many view as a disappointing performance related to the COVID-19 pandemic and in tackling violent crime plaguing the Windy City.

Lightfoot, a 60-year-old former prosecutor, was championed in 2019 for becoming the first Black and first openly gay mayor elected in Chicago, ousting Rahm Emanuel, now the current U.S. ambassador to Japan. But The Wall Street Journal reported that Lightfoot is now considered an ‘underdog’ ahead of the Feb. 28 election against eight challengers who include U.S. Rep. Jesús ‘Chuy’ Garcia, D-Ill., and former schools chief Paul Vallas, recently endorsed by the city’s Fraternal Order of Police.

The remaining six candidates — Illinois State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, activist Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward, and businessman Willie Wilson – are Black, which the Journal reports could dilute some of Lightfoot’s support. Lightfoot did secure a key endorsement, however, from the head of the city’s Black caucus. 

The Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot’s campaign has spent twice as much as she’s raised in the final three months of 2022. The incumbent, who’s been investing in expensive TV ads, spent roughly $3 million from October to December, leaving Lightfoot with about $1.4 million in her coffers before the February election. If no candidates secure a majority, the top two candidates will face an April run-off.   

Lightfoot’s campaign rejected the notion she was an underdog in the race. 

‘They just are not scientific polls and haven’t done a good job of capturing the electorate of the city,’ Lightfoot campaign spokeswoman Christina Freundlich told The Journal. ‘We feel really confident in our strategy and where we’re moving here in the next few weeks.’ 

Lightfoot has made a reputation of butting heads with teaching unions during the pandemic and police unions amid the fallout of the civil unrest that came from the George Floyd 2020 protests. Amid rampant public safety concerns, several wealthy neighborhoods in Chicago have turned to hiring private security as police walked off the job, and McDonald’s Corp. and well as billionaire Ken Griffin’s market-making business Citadel Securities have moved headquarters out of the Windy City, citing crime. 

At the start of last quarter, Lightfoot’s campaign had $2.9 million in the bank and raised a little less than $1.5 million, according to the Tribune. In one attack ad last month, Lightfoot went after her top rival, Garcia, ridiculing the congressman’s alleged ties to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was indicted for corruption. Unlike Lightfoot, as well as Vallas and Johnson, the Journal notes how Garcia has yet to launch any TV ads before the election. 

The congressman is the only other mayoral candidate besides Lightfoot to raise more than $1 million.  

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