Racial politics heat up in Chicago mayor’s race with Lori Lightfoot under attack at Toni Preckwinkle rally – Chicago Tribune
Much of Chicago’s African-American political establishment united around mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle at a raucous South Side campaign rally Saturday that aimed to convince the city’s black voters that her opponent, Lori Lightfoot, wouldn’t look out for their best interests.
The high-energy event before several hundred people at the Harold Washington Cultural Center in Bronzeville brushed aside the historic nature of the April 2 runoff between two African-American women and instead sought to cast Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, as an outsider who isn’t experienced enough to run Chicago.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush accused Lightfoot of being pro-police and suggested more black people would be killed at the hands of cops if she’s elected. Secretary of State Jesse White compared Lightfoot’s mantra of change to Republicans former Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump. And Chance the Rapper told the boisterous crowd that Lightfoot was the candidate of the North Side, not the predominantly black South and West sides.
Preckwinkle left the most heated rhetoric to her allies, but she suggested her 19 years of experience as a Hyde Park alderman and more than eight years as Cook County Board president made her far more qualified to run City Hall than Lightfoot, who has held posts in the city’s Police Department, procurement office and emergency communications office, but never served as an elected official.
“We don’t have time for a mayor who needs to learn on the job while our communities struggle with decades of disinvestment,” Preckwinkle said during a 10-minute speech. “We need more than someone who talks about change. We need a change agent.”
Lightfoot characterized the Preckwinkle rally as an attempt to pit Chicagoans against one another.
“What is sad to me is there are so many dog whistles, and not even that subtle, being blown to try to foment racial division,” Lightfoot said. “I’m not going to fall for that, and I don’t think people in this city are going to fall for that.”
The most fiery speech of the day came from Rush, the 72-year-old South Side congressman and former Black Panther leader. He repeatedly dismissed Lightfoot’s campaign for change, referring to her as “symbolic change,” “counterfeit change” and “chump change” in comparison with Preckwinkle, who he said represented “real change.”
Rush said he considered Lightfoot “chump change,” because she has the backing of 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea and, by extension, the city’s police officers, many of whom live in those predominantly white Southwest Side neighborhoods. Rush also told the crowd that Lightfoot wouldn’t demand strong changes as part of the federal consent decree, in which a federal judge will oversee reforms in the Chicago Police Department following a civil rights investigation that found widespread excessive force and misconduct by officers against the city’s minority residents.
Rush, who backed former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley in the February election, even invoked Chicago’s 1919 race riots before telling the audience Lightfoot was fronting for the city’s Fraternal Order of Police.
“The opposing candidate is representing the FOP,” Rush said as the crowd booed. “If you want the FOP, then you’ll vote for Lori.”
Lightfoot has not been backed by the FOP. Rush’s comments also ignore how Lightfoot repeatedly challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel on police reform issues and called for a consent decree while Emanuel sought to negotiate an out-of-court agreement with the Trump administration. Lightfoot also chaired a city police reform task force that made many recommendations in line with the Justice Department’s investigation.
Rush took his rhetoric a step further, suggesting Lightfoot would blindly protect police misconduct.
“This election is really about what type of police force we’re going to have in the city of Chicago, and everyone who votes for Lori, the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands,” Rush said from the stage. “If you’re against police brutality and murder, you ought to be for Toni Preckwinkle. She’s the only one who is going to have the police under her control.”
Lightfoot dismissed the rally as a last-ditch effort by Preckwinkle’s campaign, which has run short on campaign contributions and has not been able to air television ads in the race’s critical final days.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of desperation from a campaign that has stalled, that is running out of money, and that is not offering people hope and a vision for the future,” Lightfoot said. “Their whole strategy from the start of this runoff is to denigrate and try to destroy. That’s not what people want. People want to hear from us (as to) what we’re going to do to uplift the quality of life.”
White mocked Lightfoot’s campaign for change, and in the process seemingly forgot about the original Chicago change candidate, former President Barack Obama, who sent word Friday that he would not endorse in the race.
“Anytime people talk about change, when they talked about change a few years ago, we got Bruce Rauner, worst governor in the state of Illinois,” White said. “Then when they talked about change again, we got Donald Trump.”
In addition to Rush and White, Preckwinkle was joined by U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and aldermen Pat Dowell, 3rd; Sophia King, 4th; Walter Burnett, 27th; and Carrie Austin, 34th.
Lightfoot’s day included voting early in Logan Square and launching a canvass at her packed office in Austin alongside Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, and later greeting voters on the South Side with Ald. Derrick Curtis, 18th.
Preckwinkle was introduced at the rally by Chance the Rapper, the first time the two shared a stage since the hip-hop star endorsed her candidacy Thursday.
“Her opponent was not elected by the South Side. Her opponent was not elected by the West Side,” Chance said of Lightfoot. “Her opponent was elected by the North Side, and there’s two of us and one of them, and we need to come out in droves and elect our next mayor of Chicago, President Toni Preckwinkle. Make some noise, Chicago!”
Preckwinkle then gave a speech on the importance of improving neighborhood schools, wages, safety and police accountability.
“I have never, never been afraid of a fight,” Preckwinkle said to the loud roar from the crowd, before taking a veiled shot at Lightfoot. “Change is far from easy, as anyone who ever has fought for change will tell you, because the challenges our city faces are not simply ideological. 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 ability to make your vision a reality.”
But it was Lightfoot who questioned the fight of her opponent, noting that Preckwinkle had several chances to run against Emanuel and chose not to. Lightfoot launched a campaign against Emanuel last May, four months before the mayor made the stunning decision to drop his bid for a third term.