Ald. Sophia King joins race to unseat Lightfoot

King declared her candidacy for mayor the same way Lightfoot launched her uphill battle for a second term: by releasing a carefully-crafted campaign video.

Ald. Sophia King (4th), shown in October 2021 at a news conference before a City Council meeting.
Ald. Sophia King (4th), shown in October 2021 at a news conference before a City Council meeting. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times
Ald. Sophia King (4th), shown in October 2021 at a news conference before a City Council meeting.
Ald. Sophia King (4th), shown in October 2021 at a news conference before a City Council meeting. Pat Nabong / Chicago Sun-Times

Ald. Sophia King joins race to unseat Lightfoot

King declared her candidacy for mayor the same way Lightfoot launched her uphill battle for a second term: by releasing a carefully-crafted campaign video.

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Ald. Sophia King (4th), chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, on Wednesday will become the seventh African American — and ninth candidate overall — seeking to send Mayor Lori Lightfoot into political retirement.

King, 57, declared her candidacy for mayor the same way Lightfoot launched her uphill battle for a second term: by releasing a carefully-crafted campaign video.

In it, King targets Lightfoot’s most glaring weaknesses: violent crime and the perception of it, as well as the mayor’s combative, dictatorial style of governing.

“There’s a lot of tension in this city,” King told the Sun-Times. “I provide leadership that would bring collaboration. People are looking for that kind of collaboration. They’re looking for us to do more and better together.”

The video opens with King walking past a site at 43rd Street and Berkeley Avenue, where a shooting took place just days after she was sworn in six years ago.

It features endorsements from former CPD Cmdr. Crystal King-Smith (no relation); retired educator and Hyde Park resident Bill Gerstein; and former television news anchor Robin Robinson, who served the Chicago Police Department in a newly-created, six-figure, community outreach job under Emanuel before exiting under Lightfoot.

King’s entry means Lightfoot can no longer claim she is being unfairly targeted because she is an African American woman. King is both.

“Violence is not an abstract problem to me. I have seen the pain it causes way too many times. There’s no question about it. We have to hold the people who commit violent crimes accountable. And we have to hold our leaders accountable, too,” King says in the video.

King described violent crime as “issue no. 1, no. 2 and no. 3” with Chicago voters.

She told the Sun-Times she will start attacking the problem by firing Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, giving “burned-out, over-scheduled and under-appreciated” police officers more time off and authorizing incentives needed to fill 1,408 sworn police vacancies.

She would also take a serious look at restoring some or all of the 614 police vacancies that Lightfoot eliminated to help balance her 2021 budget.

“Superintendent Brown was the wrong choice to lead CPD coming from the outside. Not really understanding the city or the districts,” King told the Sun-Times.

“It was also a mistake to take officers out of the neighborhoods. They should be on their beats, building relationships.”

“Those are things that I would love to change immediately. But one of the biggest things is just to humanize and uplift our police again as well.”

As for Chicago’s $33 billion pension crisis, King said there are “progressive ways that we can get sustainable and progressive income” to stave off bankruptcy at the four city employee pension funds.

“That’s something we’re gonna roll out soon,” she said.

Appointed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the 2018 resignation of Ald. Will Burns, King has close ties to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the vanquished mayoral challenger who chairs the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization.

King’s husband, Alan, a house music DJ and Chicago attorney, is a basketball-playing buddy of former President Barack Obama.

That is, in part, how she came to be appointed by Emanuel, who was Obama’s first White House chief of staff. It’s also how she out-raised her four opponents in the February 2017 4th Ward special election by a nearly six-to-one margin.

King’s literature in that race featured endorsements from Obama and Preckwinkle, who even rang doorbells for King.

The question now is whether Preckwinkle’s long-running feud with Lightfoot will trigger an endorsement of King’s mayoral campaign and, if so, whether a party endorsement comes with it.

“I’m gonna try and get support everywhere I can. And of course, I hope to have both of their support. But you’ll have to ask them,” King said of Preckwinkle and Obama.

Another interesting question is whether Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer, and State Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, remain in the race.

King, Sawyer and Buckner are “in the same lane,” as political pundits like to put it.

Before joining the City Council, King spent decades serving her community.

She founded Harriet’s Daughters, a nonprofit that works on wealth creation opportunities for African American neighborhoods. She co-founded Ariel Community Academy.

In the City Council, King is best known for spearheading drives to rename Congress Parkway in honor of Ida B. Wells and Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable.

Lightfoot tried to stop the Lake Shore Drive name change, saying it would inconvenience businesses and high-rise residents, confuse first-responders and make it more difficult to market Chicago.

She offered an alternative — renaming the Dan Ryan Expressway instead — but Ald. David Moore (17th) said that had racial overtones, since it would “keep it on the South Side.”

Lightfoot also offered a $40 million plan to complete DuSable Park, create an exhibit that includes statues and murals honoring DuSable at the “most traveled part” of the downtown Riverwalk and rename the entire Riverwalk in honor of DuSable, a Black man who was Chicago’s first, permanent non-indigenous settler.

When neither offer was accepted, mayoral allies bought more time by using a parliamentary maneuver to delay a vote on the name change.

King stood her ground, noting the same bogus arguments were made before Congress Parkway was renamed for Ida B. Wells after Italian Americans blocked plans to rename Balbo Drive for the crusading journalist and civil rights leader.

“As a Black woman, you should understand that and know better,” King said then of Lightfoot.

Only after it was clear that Moore and King still had the votes they needed did the mayor’s forces finally offer the hybrid, keeping Lake Shore Drive in the name but giving DuSable top billing.

King and Lightfoot also clashed over the mayor’s decision to terminate the city’s 15-year-old redevelopment agreement with Mercy Hospital, paving the way for Trinity Health to sell the hospital to Insight Chicago.

At the time, Lightfoot called King an “interesting person” who was willing to let the Bronzeville hospital close to keep the redevelopment agreement in place.

The mayor said she was not about to let that happen.

“Mercy Hospital is in dire circumstances, and one thing that we know coming out of the pandemic is it is crucial that our safety net hospitals are supported, that they remain open, that they provide services to people in communities most in need,” Lightfoot said Wednesday. “Keeping that hospital open was a key priority for me. [I] make no apologies about it.”

Early on, there was a rare moment of cooperation, when King was chief sponsor of the $15-an-hour minimum wage Lightfoot used as a sweetener to win approval of her first city budget.

But, more recently, King was among a handful of alderpersons accusing the mayor of keeping them in the dark on plans for staging a NASCAR race next July in and around Grant Park.

She also stood firm against any talk of putting a casino on the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital. That paved the way to turn the hospital site, purchased by former Mayor Richard M. Daley for an Olympic Village that was never built, into a mixed-use development with potential to generate $3.1 billion in new tax revenue and create nearly 10,000 jobs.

King’s entry into the mayoral race makes it seven Black candidates in the field.

The others are; Lightfoot; Sawyer, Buckner, millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, community activist Ja’Mal Green and Chicago police officer Frederick Collins.

The field also includes former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th).

The more divided a Black vote becomes, the harder it will be for Lightfoot to win a large enough share to offset expected losses among north lakefront voters. Those voters strongly supported her in 2019 but have grown disappointed with her record on reform and transparency.

Veteran political operative Victor Reyes said King’s entry has the potential to damage what was already a longshot campaign for an incumbent mayor whose public approval rating is stuck at 25% in all polls done for rival candidates.

“Being another woman and another Black woman is important. The other important thing is she comes from a very politically powerful community. She has ties back to the Obamas. She has very close ties to President Preckwinkle. And she can raise money in a way that the other African American candidates can’t — except for Willie Wilson,” Reyes said.

“Sophia King is tough. She can negotiate. And she is formidable. … She needs to find a path to get folks in the Northwest and Southwest side to support her, which might be a little tougher for her. But, she can reach into the Latino community in a way that might be challenging for others. She has bonafides with the progressives, who have mainly abandoned Lightfoot. If she does well in the Black community and she does well on the lakefront, that alone can win you the election.”

If King can raise between $5 million and $7 million, she stands a real chance of becoming the next mayor of Chicago, Reyes said.

Her path to victory lies in finishing “first or second in a number of lakefront wards,” second to Wilson on the South Side, runner-up to Lopez among Latinos and third in white ethnic wards dominated by police officers, firefighters and other city workers, he said.

“If she makes the run-off,” Reyes said, “she can win.”