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Lori Lightfoot wins historic runoff in Chicago, becoming first black woman and first openly gay mayor

Historic Chicago election

Lori Lightfoot made history in more ways than one Tuesday night, defeating Toni Preckwinkle to not only become the first African-American woman elected mayor of Chicago, but the first openly gay woman to win the seat as well.

With at least 95 percent of the vote counted, Lightfoot held a commanding 74 percent to 26 percent lead in a race that saw possibly record low turnout of around 30 percent.

Lightfoot addressed her supporters late Tuesday, saying she wants to turn Chicago around so that "your ZIP code doesn't determine your destiny." She pledged that all of Chicago's neighborhoods would be invested in each other and "we will grow together."

"We can and we will break this city's cycle of corruption," she said. "We will not let politicians profit from their positions. We can and we will remake Chicago."

Preckwinkle told a crowd of supporters she still believes in the power of public service and has dedicated her life to it. She said she will wake up Wednesday fighting and advocating for her constituents. She's disappointed, but not disheartened in her loss to Lightfoot.

Lightfoot's victory followed five weeks of bitter rhetoric between her and Preckwinkle, CBS Chicago reports, after she won the most votes in the first round of the election in February. She had seemed to come out of virtually nowhere to secure that victory in February, having polled as low as 2.8 percent just a month earlier.

After emerging from the first round of the election as the front-runner, Lightfoot quickly began outpacing Preckwinkle in endorsements, with several defeated mayoral candidates backing her in the runoff.

The campaign took a particularly nasty turn in the final week, as Preckwinkle's campaign released a TV ad attacking how Lori Lightfoot investigated a critical failure of the 911 call center. The ad was based on a very real tragedy: A 2004 West Side fire that killed three of Dwayne and Emily Funches' children, as well as a 12-year-old godson. However, the Funches family reportedly was infuriated with the ad, saying they were not consulted about it, and wanted it pulled, because it exploits their tragedy. Nonetheless, the Preckwinkle campaign refused to pull the ad.

Lightfoot, 56, has portrayed herself as a progressive champion for reforming City Hall, and repeatedly criticized Preckwinkle as a Democratic party boss who ran a corrupt political machine, assailing her for her ties to Ald. Edward Burke, who earlier this year was indicted for extortion. She also lambasted Preckwinkle for supporting former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios after a 2017 Chicago Tribune/ProPublica Illinois investigation that found the property tax assessment program run by his office unfairly shifted the tax burden from wealthy property owners to middle- and low-income homeowners.

Lori Lightfoot
Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot greets commuters at an L station in Logan Square on Tue., April 2, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. Getty

In their first debate, Lightfoot accused Preckwinkle of telling "lie after lie" during the campaign and has repeatedly said Preckwinkle has tried "to portray me as something other than I am."

Preckwinkle has called Lightfoot a hypocrite, calling her rival a name-caller who once compared her and other candidates with ties to Burke "cockroaches" in a campaign ad.

"It's like when cockroaches, there's a light that's shined on them, they scramble, initially they're silent, then they try to say, 'Not me, not me,'" Lightfoot said in the ad. "Then when they get caught, right, then they finally stand up and do something. It's a day late and a dollar short."

Preckwinkle also repeatedly criticized Lightfoot's record as a corporate attorney, blasting her for her work defending Merrill Lynch in a discrimination lawsuit.

Lightfoot also criticized Preckwinkle for joining the race for mayor only after Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not run for a third term, touting her own decision to challenge Emanuel before he announced his retirement.

Chicago Holds Runoff Election For Mayor
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle, 72, talks to reporters at her polling place in the Kenwood neighborhood after casting her ballot on Tue., April 2, 2019, in Chicago, Illinois. Getty

A former federal prosecutor, former president of the Chicago Police Board, and former Police Accountability Task Force chair, Lightfoot gained a reputation as a police reformer. The task force she led recommended sweeping changes at the Chicago Police Department, calling out a "history of racial disparity and discrimination."

The panel also recommended replacing the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority with an oversight agency better equipped to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers. Just months later, the City Council voted to eliminate IPRA and replace I with the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, with double the budget, and a larger staff.

Now, as she prepares to take over as mayor next month when she's sworn in May 20, Lightfoot will be tasked with making sure the Chicago Police Department lives up to the terms of a consent decree governing sweeping changes recommended by the U.S. Justice Department.

Lightfoot will join seven other black women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans and will be the second woman to lead Chicago. She and her wife have one daughter.

Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the civil rights organization for lesbian and gay people was "thrilled" with the outcome.

"This victory is historic, and it is also an undeniably proud moment for the LGBTQ community," Johnson said.

Lori Lightfoot wins historic Chicago mayoral race
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