Clarence Page

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a pre-election interview with The New Yorker that, “I am a Black woman, let’s not forget. Certain folks frankly don’t support us in leadership roles.”

Sad, but true. Yet that doesn’t explain why she swept all 50 of the city’s wards a mere four years ago to become the city’s first Black lesbian mayor.

What does explain her earlier victory was her showing up at the right time with the right campaign to address the issues of that time, particularly police accountability.

This time was not like that. This time she won only 17% of the overall vote, too low in the nine-person field to make the April runoff. She lost to Paul Vallas, a former Chicago Public Schools CEO, and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

She might as well have said, “The crime rate went up.” Just about everyone in Chicago — or who knows someone from Chicago — seems to have stories to tell about friends or relatives who have been shot, robbed, carjacked or otherwise victimized by the city’s crime surge.

Like other cities, Chicago had a crime surge after COVID-19 hit. Homicides jumped from 500 in 2019 to 776 in 2020, and peaked at 804 in 2021, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. Then homicides fell last year by nearly 14% to 695.


When rioters in August 2020 looted stores and broke windows on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile and other prestigious downtown properties, it looked like the city was falling apart. Still, Lightfoot didn’t seem to have much of a plan for dealing with the problem, outside of her stern disapproval.

No, it’s not necessarily the mayor’s fault that such crises break out. But what really matters is how well he or she handles it and gets ahead of it. Lightfoot, for all of her earnest speeches about hope and reforms, never seemed to have much of a handle on the problems or much success at working with others to fix them.

I was sadly reminded of the blizzard of 1979, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the city and led to Mayor Michael Bilandic unexpectedly being unseated by challenger Jane Byrne, who served one term before she lost her reelection bid to South Side U.S. Rep. Harold Washington. Even in Chicago, many noted — including me — the voters know when enough is enough.

Then, in those days before Chicago turned to nonpartisan runoff elections, Washington’s Democratic bid against Republican nominee Bernard Epton set off one of the most racially contentious elections in Chicago history.

“Politics ain’t beanbag,” Washington often observed, quoting an old saying that goes back to 19th-century Chicago novelist Finley Peter Dunne. Washington understood the times and worked to change them.

Today, we see race, ethnicity and gender continue to be issues in Chicago, but fortunately the voters seem to have gotten a little better at focusing on issues that affect all colors of Chicagoans.


Vallas is white, and Johnson is African American. But, in the often-quoted spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I believe they should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their platforms.

Of course, that approach can be complicated by the language that we use.

For example, Vallas is keeping his laser focus on crime, saying in speeches that it’s time to “take our city back.” Lightfoot compared that line to “Vote for Epton before it’s too late” as a racial dog whistle, echoing back to 1983. Well, not quite.

Johnson, by contrast, has backed away from his early support of the “defund the police” movement to call instead for reversing the “lack of investment” in high crime areas so police don’t have to behave as “crisis interventionists, therapists and social workers” on emergency calls.

Vallas, backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, presented himself as the tough-on-crime candidate who also supports restoring a community policing model that builds strong relationships between police and the communities they serve.

I have long supported community policing as well as alternative services to take some of the burden off police in emergency calls. As departing Mayor Lightfoot showed, coming up with new ideas is great, but putting them into action can be quite another matter.

Chicago politics, like elsewhere, still ain’t beanbag. Nevertheless, let’s hope it stays civil.

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