How chicago turned on Lori Lightfoot

In 2019, every ward wanted Lightfoot. In 2023, she didn’t make it to the runoff. What happened?

Last week Chicago held its mayoral runoff election, where Brandon Johnson won against Paul Vallas by a close margin. Mayor-elect Johnson met with incumbent Lori Lightfoot on Thursday to begin the transition of power, the Chicago Tribune reported. Back in 2019, Lightfoot had a hugely successful campaign where she won the majority vote in every ward in the runoff election against Toni Preckwinkle. This year, she didn’t make it past the initial round. Garnering only 17% of the vote, Lightfoot has become the first incumbent mayor in 4 decades to lose a bid for reelection. How did Lightfoot go from a landslide win to a historic loss?

Turnout for Lightfoot in general election by precinct


General election results by candidate

Broken promises

Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign was full of auspicious promises of policy changes and plans to address major issues. While it wouldn’t be fair to accuse her of complete inaction, many complain that Lightfoot and her policies have been ineffective. At worst, Lightfoot has been cited with flip-flopping on central pillars of her platform. WBEZ has a comprehensive list of Lightfoot’s promises, shifts in ideology, and failures to follow through. Here are a few of those:

  • Lightfoot promised to allow the election of school board members, she later said that the policy would be “a recipe for disaster.”
  • Lightfoot told WBEZ that she opposed an income-based city tax on either Chicagoans or commuters, but later implemented a “congestion tax” (as part of her plan to finance CTA improvements) which imposed a surcharge on ride-sharing apps and taxi services during commuter hours.
  • She promised to reduce housing segregation and revise zoning laws, but as of May, 2022, no action had been taken to deal with single-family home zoning laws in the city.

Rising violent crime

Chicago’s issue with high rates of crime is no secret, and voters pay attention. A popular critique of the former mayor is her failure to address rising violent crime rates effectively. The Washington Post reported that while crime rates in Chicago remained high, the arrest rate plunged to only 12.3% throughout Lightfoot’s term.

While the issue of crime in Chicago has a long history and Lightfoot cannot take sole blame for its continuing increase, she has been faulted for shrinking the Chicago police force due to budgetary reasons- despite openly opposing defunding the police. Kimberly Foxx, the local state’s attorney, has also been heavily criticized for her laid-back approach to prosecuting crimes. Lightfoot has credited these failures to the unprecedented times in which she governed, citing the pandemic, civil unrest, and political partisanship as hindrances.

So what will Brandon Johnson do differently?

After a tight runoff election, Brandon Johnson has been elected mayor of Chicago. A much more progressive politician than his opponent, Paul Vallas, Johnson’s approach to public safety was frequently questioned during his campaign. WBEZ has put together a list of promises and action plans that Johnson has announced now that he’s in office. So, what will he change to avoid a similar fate to his predecessor?

  • Adding 200 detectives to the Chicago police force
  • Remove the faulty ShotSpotter system, which has been implicated in increasing biases in officers policing neighborhoods frequently flagged by the system
  • Sending mental health professionals to the majority of 911 calls rather than police
  • Open more trauma recovery centers, establishments that provide services to victims of violent crime and other kinds of traumatic events
  • Increase funding to Chicago’s Office of Domestic Violence

Many progressive voters believe that these fundamental changes to the way the city handles public safety issues will offer a more successful and compassionate approach, that will hopefully yield significant results. However, Vallas voters and other more center or conservative-leaning constituents fear that Johnson’s approach will prove to be “soft on crime” compared to a more police- and prosecution-heavy system. Regardless of their voting history, Chicagoans hope that Johnson proves more effective than Lightfoot in tackling the city’s crime problem.

See also:

Chicago Tribune: 2023 mayoral election results by ward

City Bureau: 2019 election results maps

WBEZ: Lori Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign promises

Washington Post: High crime rates lead to Lightfoot’s downfall

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