By Erick Johnson
As Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot step up their battle to become Chicago’s first Black female mayor, there is also a possibility for perhaps a greater historic achievement that may be decided during the runoff on April 2.
With momentum in Lightfoot’s favor, she could become the first Black female mayor while Preckwinkle serves as the County’s second Black female Cook County Board president. It has never happened in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or any major city in the country.
On February 26, Lightfoot and Preckwinkle produced a dramatic ending to Black History Month, beating a crowded field of 14 candidates to guarantee the city its first-ever Black female mayor. Could it get any better with a Black female mayor of Chicago and a Black female president of the Cook County Board serving at the same time? If it happens, it may be the crowning achievement for the nation’s third biggest city, where Blacks head many government agencies, including the police department, fire department, public school system and housing authority. Blacks also lead in top positions in Cook County and the state of Illinois.
But the historic possibility of two Black female leaders serving at the pinnacles of Chicago and Cook County government has some Blacks talking and others grumbling. While some are backing Lightfoot, others are supporting Preckwinkle in her third term as head of the second-largest county in America.
Some bemoan the possibility of Preckwinkle winning and leaving the Cook County Board president position open for a white candidate to take over a position that has been occupied by a Black leader for over 25 years, beginning with John Stroger in 1994.
For two Black leaders to make an extraordinary historic achievement in Chicago and Cook County, Preckwinkle will have to lose to her political rival next month. She is stepping up her campaign to make sure that’s not going to happen.
Since finishing second to Lightfoot on February 26, Preckwinkle has launched an aggressive runoff campaign that includes attacks on Lightfoot, who is running as a “reformer” who will finally bust up the political machine that has operated for decades at City Hall.“I hope our (Black) community understand [sic] we are in historical times right now and are wondering to themselves, among their family, friends and peers on how to capitalize on the situation before us,” said Kay Bell, a Black voter who emailed the Crusader with her concerns. “We have two Black people competing to be Chicago’s mayor. Unheard of! The political times are changing fast. And Black folks better catch up and stay with it. Now, is not the time to be dismissive or aloof. We need to be strategic. Consider the best scenario to help our people? With the Black exodus leaving Chicago, we are losing our voting power. Losing our leverage to better our communities, our schools, our conditions, minority contracting, etc. We will never have this opportunity again. I believe Toni Preckwinkle should retain the County Board president’s position (which is history-making in and of itself) and concede to Lori Lightfoot for mayor. That way, we would have a Black female County Board president and a Black female mayor.”
Another Chicago Black voter, Lance Lewis, said. “I never looked at it that way. But who’s the best candidate is the main question. Both have their flaws, but let’s hope their virtues will outweigh their flaws in the eyes of voters.”
Lightfoot is gaining momentum with non-Black voters on the city’s North Side. She came out on top with 17.4 percent of the vote without winning a single predominantly Black ward.
With 16 percent of the vote, Preckwinkle won five Black wards, including the 4th ward, where she lives. Out of Lightfoot’s 91,986 total votes, 29 percent of them came from predominantly white wards. Half of Preckwinkle’s 84,639 votes came from predominantly Black wards.
Neither candidate is popular in the Black community, but together, the two can do something that has never been achieved in Cook County or perhaps anywhere in the country. As the trend continues for Black women becoming mayors of big cities, including San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Atlanta, Chicago can make the biggest statement of all with two Black female leaders heading two of the biggest governments in the country at the same time.
With Lightfoot gaining steam with white, liberal, progressive votes, Preckwinkle would need to win as many of the city’s 18 Black wards as she can get. With four weeks left before the runoff, Lightfoot is looking like the favorite candidate to win it all. If that happens, Preckwinkle will still remain as president of the Cook County Board. She would still make history as a Black female leader. Ambitous and shrewd, Preckinkle wants to be mayor of Chicago, which is viewed as the more prestigous job than Cook County Board President.
Never before have two Blacks led Chicago and Cook County at the same time.
Harold Washington became the first Black ever to head any government in Cook County when he became mayor in 1983. During that time, George W. Dunne —the longest-serving Cook County Board president ever—was in office. The city’s second Black mayor, Eugene Sawyer, served until 1989. Dunne served in that role until 1990. Cook County did not get its first Black president until John H. Stroger was elected in 1994. His son, Todd, and Preckwinkle have kept Blacks in the top position since that time.
Meanwhile, Chicago hasn’t had a Black mayor—man or woman —since Sawyer.
Businessman Willie Wilson, Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown and Carol Moseley Braun are some of the prominent Blacks who have run, but lost. Wilson, who has impressed many with his fourth-place finish in last month’s election, won 15 predominantly Black wards and could play a key role in the runoff by endorsing Preckwinkle or Lightfoot. Wilson said he will make a decision this week after meeting with both candidates.
There is also this possibility: three Black women heading Cook County, Chicago and Gary, Indiana, where the city’s first Black female mayor, Karen Freeman-Wilson, is seeking her third term in office in May.