A shocker in Chicago Democratic mayoral primary
Bill Daley, the son and brother of legendary Chicago mayors, as well as the former chief of staff for Barack Obama, spent nearly twice as much in the Democratic primary for mayor as his closest rival, Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle.
The last weeks of the campaign saw Daley being tarred with accepting a $2-million campaign contribution from billionaire Ken Griffin, a prominent donor to the campaign of the unpopular former governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner. In a race where anti-establishment themes dominated, that was enough to deny Daley a spot in the runoff election, scheduled for April 2.
Preckwinkle, who was tied to the burgeoning public corruption scandal involving longtime powerful Alderman Ed Burke, managed to finish ahead of Daley in second place. The candidate who won the most votes and who will face off with Preckwinkle is an African-American lesbian outsider who was polling in single digits just last month.
Lori Lightfoot served in several appointed positions, most notably as president of the police board. In a city rocked by police misconduct, reforming the CPD was one of the top issues in the campaign. Lightfoot rode the good press she got from being tough on bad cops into the race for mayor.
"The field was too crowded. There was no path for a new reformer without huge donors being an elected official for 10,000 years amidst a pack of establishment figures. People said that I had some good ideas, but I couldn't win. And it's true that it's not every day that a little black girl in a low-income family from a segregated steel town makes the runoff to be the next mayor of the third-largest city in the country," she said.
Preckwinkle took to the podium shortly after 10 p.m., acknowledging the moment.
"We may not be at the finish line. But, we should acknowledge that history is being made," she said.
Taking a shot at Lightfoot's lack of executive experience, Preckwinkle said, "It's not enough to stand at a podium and talk about what you want to see happen. You have to come to this job with the capacity and the capability to make your vision a reality."
Lightfoot was leading throughout the evening, with Preckwinkle and Daley locked in a battle for second place. Daley threw in the towel shortly before 10 p.m., thanking billionaire Ken Griffin for $2 million in campaign cash that may have cost him the election by linking him to a top donor of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"I love this city. It's my home and I'm going to continue to work hard to make it a better city. And I ask the same of each and every one of you," Daley told his supporters. "Thank you, thank you, thank you for what you've done for me."
Preckwinkle is the darling of the two most radical unions in the city: SEIU and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881. As a former teacher, she also has the backing of the Chicago Teachers Union. She's the odds-on favorite going into the runoff, but there may be damaging revelations to come with regard to her dealings with Ed Burke and the federal bribery scandal engulfing the 50-year alderman.
The biggest loser of the evening was the establishment. Frightened by the radicalism of several candidates, wealthy donors poured money into the campaign of Bill Daley. But Daley was hurt not only by his association with Griffin, but by the presence on the ballot of two other prominent establishment politicians. They clearly siphoned enough votes away from Daley to give the top spot to Lightfoot.
Elsewhere, three prominent machine alderman lost their primaries, including legendary power broker Joe Moore, who lost to a political neophyte. The winds of change are blowing through the city, and the only thing certain is that City Hall is going to have several radical reformers who will tax the wealthy and push a far-left agenda, including a $15 minimum wage, putting the teacher union in charge of schools, passing more gun control, and making the job of police in the city far more difficult.
Chicago will have its second black mayor and its first female mayor (correction from Thomas Lifson: Jane Byrne was the first female mayor). If Lightfoot wins, she would become the highest ranking lesbian mayor in the country. Meanwhile, the machine — a shadow of its former self — will be forced to the sidelines as Chicago may become a testing ground for the most radical political ideas in the nation.