No matter who wins the April runoff election, Chicago's next mayor will be an African-American woman for the first time in the city's history.
Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle both advanced to the runoff election Tuesday night after Lightfoot garnered 17.5 percent of the vote and Preckwinkle took 16 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting as of 11 p.m., according to the Chicago Board of Elections.
Bill Daley, son of one mayor and brother of another, conceded after coming in third place with about 14.8 percent of the vote. Willie Wilson was a distant fourth at about 10 percent. The results were not official as of Tuesday night, as vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day may continue to be counted through March 12 per election law.
Still, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle prevailed over 12 other candidates in the most crowded field of mayoral hopefuls in Chicago's history, a field that grew after outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in September that he would not run for a third term.
Lightfoot is the former president of the Chicago Police Board. Emanuel appointed Lightfoot to head the board in 2015, and to chair the Police Accountability Task Force in 2016, in the wake of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. A former federal prosecutor from 1996 to 2002, Lightfoot has also held various roles in city government, including as chief of staff for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications in 2005.
She most recently was a partner at Mayer Brown LLP and entered the race before Emanuel dropped out - criticizing the candidates, including Preckwinkle, who launched their bids after his announcement. A late surge, seemingly fueled by an endorsement from the Chicago Sun-Times and other candidates' perceived ties to the so-called "machine," was enough to put Lightfoot at the top.
"So what do you think of us now?" Lightfoot - who was not widely seen as a frontrunner at the outset of the race - asked in her speech, thanking supporters and declaring victory.
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"Of course I want to thank those who had the courage - and let me understand that, courage - to stand with our campaign against the machine," she added.
"To anyone out there eager to join our team and our fight, welcome aboard. This, my friends, is what change looks like," Lightfoot declared to raucous cheers.
She'll face a formidable opponent in Preckwinkle, the current Cook County Board President and chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. Long seen as one of the most viable challengers to Emanuel, Preckwinkle has been board president since 2010, and prior to that was elected to five terms as alderman of the 4th Ward on the city's South Side.
In April 2018, she became chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. She enjoys significant support from organized labor, particularly Service Employees International Union Local 1 and the Chicago Teachers Union. She championed the ill-fated soda tax, which was repealed amid public outcry just months after it went into effect in August 2017.
In her address to supporters, Preckwinkle touted her progressive credentials and even revealed what is likely to be her line of attack ahead of the runoff.
"We're a movement supported by hard-working families from every community in this city," she proclaimed, before highlighting her own experience.
"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," Preckwinkle added in a thinly-veiled dig at Lightfoot that she soon made far less subtle.
"While my opponent was taking multiple opponents in both the Daley and Emanuel administrations, I fought the power elites who've been trying to hold the city back for decades," she said.
A victory by either woman would be historic in more ways than one. Both in contention to be Chicago's first black female mayor, Lightfoot would also be the city's first openly-LGBTQ mayor, while Preckwinkle would be the first mayor to chair the Cook County Democratic Party since Richard J. Daley.
The runoff election is slated to take place on April 2.