Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago loses bid for re-election due to widespread dissatisfaction among voters over her handling of crime and policing, which was reflected in a resounding defeat in the first round of voting on Tuesday. Lightfoot had made history four years ago by becoming the first Black woman to be elected mayor of Chicago, sweeping all 50 of the city’s wards. However, her popularity took a hit during the coronavirus pandemic as Chicago saw a spike in violent crime. Looting and destruction on its famed Magnificent Mile in 2020 further damaged her reputation.
Paul Vallas, a former public schools executive, and Brandon Johnson, a county board commissioner, emerged from the first round of voting and advanced to an April 4 runoff, according to The Associated Press. Vallas, who won 34% of the vote, ran an aggressive campaign focused on making the city safer, with an endorsement from the local Fraternal Order of Police. He called for bolstering the police force, improving arrest rates for serious crimes, and expanding charter schools.
On the other hand, Johnson, who won 20% of the vote, was endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and staked out a position to the left of Lightfoot, suggesting that he agreed with the movement to reduce funding to police departments, although he later backtracked. Johnson won over many political progressives.
The election demonstrated the political divide that has emerged in some of America’s largest, most liberal cities, where hard-on-crime policies have increasingly resonated with voters. However, it also highlighted the uniquely Chicago peril of leading the city with no natural base or ward to count on for loyal support in tough times. Lightfoot, an Ohio native, had never held elective office before becoming mayor.
Chicago mayors have wide-ranging powers, even compared to mayors in New York City and Los Angeles: they oversee the sprawling public-transit system, Police and Fire Departments, schools, parks, and other agencies. Therefore, when crime spikes or potholes go unfilled, Chicagoans tend to blame their mayor.
Lightfoot, who is also the first openly gay person to lead Chicago, had pointed to investments in long-neglected neighborhoods and made the case that the city had emerged from the pandemic in a strong position. However, she was challenged on the campaign trail by residents unimpressed with her handling of crime, which loomed above all other issues in the campaign.
Lightfoot’s loss highlights the challenges of leading a city through difficult times, particularly during a pandemic. While the pandemic presented unique challenges for cities, it also exacerbated underlying problems like crime, which can make or break a mayor’s chances of re-election. As the election demonstrated, hard-on-crime policies can resonate with voters in liberal cities, but they are not a panacea for addressing the underlying problems that lead to crime in the first place.