Lori Lightfoot speaks to supporters

Lori Lightfoot speaks to supporters Tuesday night (April 2) after handily beating opponent Toni Preckwinkle to become Chicago’s next mayor. 

Lori Lightfoot, a 56-year-old former prosecutor and an openly-gay Black woman, promised as Chicago's next mayor to bring unity and new hope to a shrinking city mired in debt, corruption and gun violence.

She handily won a runoff election Tuesday over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a 72-year-old longtime politician backed by some the city’s most powerful unions.

“Today you did more than make history,” Lightfoot said in her victory speech. “You created a movement for change.”

With most of the precincts reporting, Lightfoot had won nearly three-fourths of the vote, taking every ward. Her campaign was seen as more upbeat and positive than Preckwinkle’s, who took criticism for her negativity in campaign ads and in the debates.

“While I may be disappointed, I am not disheartened,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday evening in a concession speech.

Preckwinkle will return to her seat of power as president of Cook County’s Board of Commissioners, where she’ll have to work closely with Lightfoot. Preckwinkle faced sharp criticism for leading the campaign to successfully institute a tax on sugary drinks in Cook County, something she was later rebuffed on when the county commissioners voted in 2017 to repeal the penny-per-ounce tax.

The vacuum of power in America’s third-largest city was set in motion by the surprise September announcement that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not run for re-election. This opened the door for a flood of candidates looking to take over as the city’s top executive.

The February election saw Lightfoot and Preckwinkle as the top two vote-getters out of 14 candidates that included state lawmakers, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, even Bill Daley, brother and son of two former Chicago mayors.

Daley came in third place in the February election, getting within 8,000 votes of Preckwinkle’s 88,757 votes.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle weren't far apart on some of the election’s key issues. Both favor preserving Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, legalized gambling and a casino in the city, a statewide progressive tax, and other policy issues.

They differed on aldermanic privilege, or the ability for the city’s local ward aldermen to have the final say on construction projects in their wards, as well as term limits for the mayor and aldermen. Preckwinkle supported the status quo while Lightfoot listed changing both with “high importance” in a Chicago Tribune questionnaire of the candidates.

Lightfoot will take office later this year, and in doing so will become the second woman behind Jane Byrne, second African-American behind Harold Washington, and the first openly gay person to serve as mayor of Chicago.

This article originally ran on ilnews.org.

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