Lori Lightfoot Makes Herstory as the Newly Elected Black Lesbian Mayor of Chicago

Tonight out lesbian Lori Lightfoot was elected as Mayor of Chicago, making her the first black woman and first openly LGBTQ+ person to hold the position.

In her first run for elected office, Lightfoot, 56, emerged as a surprising leader in the race after preliminary votes were cast in February. At the time there were 14 candidates on the ballot to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided against running for a third term.

She was victorious in tonight’s final race, with 74% of the vote to Toni Preckwinkle’s 26% and nearly 80% of the precincts reporting, according to the Chicago Tribune. Preckwinkle, who previously served on the Chicago City Council for 19 years, is also a black woman. No matter what happened tonight – Chicago set the stage to make history.

When Lightfoot is sworn in on May 20th, Chicago will officially become the largest U.S. city to elect a black woman as mayor. She will join seven other black women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans. Chicago will now also become the biggest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor (Lightfoot and her wife share a daughter). Chicago is the nation’s third-largest city. The fourth-largest, Houston, elected lesbian Annise Parker as mayor from 2010 to 2016. Parker, now president and CEO of the political action committee The LGBTQ Victory Fund, was reported by The Advocate to have been present at Lightfoot’s celebration this evening.

Lori Lightfoot has promised to fight Chicago’s government corruption while also helping low-income and working class Chicagoans who have been otherwise ignored by local politicians. In a recent speech to black voters at a Rainbow/PUSH Coalition event, Lightfoot vowed that “We have the opportunity to bring all parts of our city together, to forge a new direction for our city that welcomes everyone to the table.”

It’s a sentiment she echoed tonight to the Chicago Sun-Times from her victory hotel suite, “I feel very humbled and honored. I’m gonna do everything I can to earn it.”

Lightfoot at her celebration rally tonight in Chicago.

Lightfoot’s supporters have argued that her own working class roots and infamous independent streak will make her the kind of mayor that firmly sets her priorities on the city’s most neglected communities. While not a native of Chicago, she is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and has made the city her home for decades. Still, there are parts of Lightfoot’s background – namely her history as a federal prosector and as head of the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards – that have given other local activists worry as to whether or not she can usher in a new progressive vision for the city.

In 1996, Lightfoot joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She has since explained that her decision was in part motivated by the fact that the department was “almost exclusively white male. ” She wanted people of color to be represented. In 2002, she went on to become chief administrator of the CPD’s Office of Professional Standards. She stayed in that position for two years. The Office of Professional Standards has been credited as Chicago’s first attempt at a institutional police oversight agency. However, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, between 2002 and 2004 – under Lightfoot’s leadership – only 1.8% of the complaints made by civilians against officers were sustained. Officers who used excessive force had just a four in 1,000 chance of facing “serious discipline.”

In recent years, Lightfoot has seemingly become a prominent voice in attempts to move Mayor Emanual towards progressive police reform. Still, her campaign trail proposals to turn former Chicago schools into Police Academies and reduce city gun violence by increasing federal prosecution for gun crimes has left many uneased.

Charlene Carruthers, a black queer woman Chicago activist and leader of The BYP 100, a nationally recognized network of black youth activists, tweeted tonight: “This is not a victory for LGBTQ people. We are going to have to fight the Lori Lightfoot administration tooth and nail.”

Lightfoot’s future in Chicago remains unwritten, but it’s still an exciting time to see women making gains in politics. We’re less than six months outside of November’s historic sweep of over 100 women being elected to US Congress – a national record. It’s also promising that hard fought activist work in Chicago aided in Rahm Emmanual’s decision not to run for re-election in the first place. We’re hopeful that the same community organizing effort in Chicago will help keep Lightfoot accountable as she leaves her mark on the city’s – and the United States’ – history.

Carmen is Autostraddle's Deputy Editor and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 223 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. While I acknowledge the historic moment that occurred today, I’m not happy with the result. Lightfoot used to be head of Chicago’s Police Board and thinks the solution to Chicago’s criminal justice system is more cops.

    Lightfoot has said she wants to turn previously closed schools still sitting vacant into police training centers. These former schools are disproportionately in communities of color, and CPD doesn’t exactly have the best track record on racial issues.

    Local activists have called her a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I guess we’ll find out one way or another.

    On a brighter note our new treasurer is also a woman which means Chicago has elected women in three powerful offices (mayor, treasurer and city clerk).

  2. I also acknowledge that this is historic (we’re the biggest city to ever have a queer mayor!) but I’m also not thrilled about it, and most of the progressive queer people & activists I know aren’t either.

    In addition to the concerns that Carmen mentioned, Lori Lightfoot also delayed the prosecution of Dante Servin (the off-duty cop who shot Reika Boyd) so he could retire with benefits. And she proposed the schools-to-cop academies thing the day after the $95 million Cop Academy was passed, which was been one of the biggest activist fights in the city for the last year. Also, those closed down schools? There are 50 of them, they’re largely in black and brown neighborhoods, and they’ve been allowed corrupt charter schools like Nobel to flourish. It’s absolutely a crime, and the idea that underserved neighborhoods need MORE cops would be laughable if it weren’t infuriating.

    She ran as a progressive, but she’s actually a machine candidate (Rahm, Madigan, and Mendoza all endorsed her). I agree with the BYP 100. It’s not a victory.

  3. Has anyone been able to find the demographic breakdown of who voted for Lightfoot? (Are they able to collect data on that for an election of this scale?) I don’t know anyone who voted for her and the comments here and on the AS Facebook page are similarly unhappy about her win.

    This was well reported Carmen, thanks.

    • WGN said last night that she’d won all 50 wards, but that was before all the votes were counted. I haven’t seen a detailed map yet.

      The detailed maps of the 1st mayoral election, with 14 candidates, were crazy (what we just had was the runoff between the two winners of the first election). I’ll post the link if I can find it.

      • Wow apparently my neighborhood voted for Lightfoot and Daley in the first election. I don’t just ask random people on the street who they voted for of course but I’m surprised I didn’t see more Lightfoot signs for the second election, considering.

        The race was still a typical “least bad candidate” race in a lot of ways, I just didn’t expect Lightfoot to win and definitely not by such a large margin and am still wondering how that happened.

        • Yeah, I wasn’t really surprised that she won – I knew people who were voting for her. But I wasn’t expecting such a huge victory at all.

          I really want to read an in depth analysis of this election once the dust settles. My (not super well informed) sense is that the timing of the Burke / Solis scandal really helped Lightfoot win in the first election (plus did you read the Suntimes’ endorsement of her? I feel like that had to have helped her) and then she just ran a better race against Preckwinkle.

          So far I’ve read or heard the following explanations for her win:

          – Lightfoot ran a better campaign than Preckwinkle
          – Preckwinkle had problems with the Latinx community (or they had problems with her, more accurately)
          – Willie Wilson (who won a lot of the south and west side in Feb) endorsed Lori Lightfoot, making it easier for more traditional church going Black voters to feel comfortable voting for her (I’m paraphrasing his words here)
          – Preckwinkle held public office for decades and Lightfoot hasn’t ever held office, so Preckwinkle has a much longer record for people to take exception with
          – Preckwinkle was tainted by the Burke investigation

      • I question the idea that someone could completely understand why activists* are concerned about Lori, but then still decide that Preckwinkle’s record was more troubling. I know you mention you are more moderate, but I urge you to look into what activists opposing Lightfoot are actually worried about – their literal lives – black queer folks are the most at risk of violence from CPD. Lori’s track record with police is extremely concerning.

        I recommend this piece by a Black queer Chicagoan for more on these concerns: https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2019/4/03/chicagos-first-black-lesbian-mayor-isnt-victory-all-queers?fbclid=IwAR2TsIv0EQysndR54Dv3NYwXhctNxJRvqfL5OYIzwYKm3SOriAPdLFfy0uM

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