Lori Lightfoot launches her reelection campaign for Chicago mayor

In a video campaign launch, Lightfoot embraces headlines about her anger and “taking things personally,” saying she’s had to fight to be heard.

Mayor Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference on Feb. 4, 2021. Lightfoot announced her reelection campaign on Tuesday. WBEZ
Mayor Lightfoot
Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a press conference on Feb. 4, 2021. Lightfoot announced her reelection campaign on Tuesday. WBEZ

Lori Lightfoot launches her reelection campaign for Chicago mayor

In a video campaign launch, Lightfoot embraces headlines about her anger and “taking things personally,” saying she’s had to fight to be heard.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot officially launched her 2023 campaign for reelection in a video made public Tuesday afternoon that shows the mayor embracing her reputation as a tough talker who can at times “take things personally.”

The video is the first look at how the incumbent, first-term mayor is going to frame her reelection campaign after a tenure dominated by a global pandemic, civil unrest and rising crime across the country and Chicago. Lightfoot also plans to go on a campaign tour Wednesday, with multiple events around the city.

Taking on her image as an outsider head-on, Lightfoot’s announcement video addresses years of headlines about her hard-to-please style and confrontational attitude that has earned her national attention during her term.

“They say I’m tough. They say I get angry. They say sometimes I take things personally,” Lightfoot said in her announcement video. “They’re absolutely right.”

The video is light on details of her reelection platform and consists mostly of Lightfoot reaffirming her commitment to the city — saying she’ll fight to make the greatest city in the world “even greater.”

But snippets of news clips hint at some of the accomplishments Lightfoot will tout on the campaign trail. The video features segments about her signature Invest South/West program, her efforts to add more detectives to the Chicago Police Department, gun buyback programs the Police Department has conducted, and her response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we got knocked down by COVID,” Lightfoot said. “We came together as a city and we got right back up. Because that’s who we are.”

Six candidates so far have said they plan to also run for mayor in the city’s 2023 election — most of whom are making public safety a cornerstone of their campaigns. The city has seen a rise in violent crimes and carjackings in the past two years — something that has plagued Lightfoot’s tenure, and that she will have to answer for on the campaign trail. More mayoral candidates are likely to also jump into the fray.

Lightfoot ran her 2019 campaign as an underdog and outsider, promising reform and transparency as the city’s first Black female and lesbian mayor. The image helped her win a sweep of all 50 wards over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in a runoff election.

“I don’t look or sound like any other mayor we’ve ever had before and I’ve had to fight to get a seat at the table,” Lightfoot said in her video. “And like so many in our city, I’ve had to fight to have my voice heard. That’s why I’ll never back down. I’m fighting every day to turn your voice into action.”

During her term, Lightfoot has made good on several of her campaign vows, a WBEZ analysis found. Having promised she would allow Chicagoans to file anonymous complaints against police officers, for instance, Lightfoot’s team successfully renegotiated police contracts for top brass and rank-and-file officers to include this policy.

But Lightfoot has also flip-flopped on cornerstone reform efforts — such as her support for an independent, non-aldermanic process to remap the city’s 50 wards, or her campaign trail commitment to creating an elected school board in Chicago.

“My mother was an elected school board member, so I understand the importance of giving parents and stakeholders a real voice in how our children are educated,” Lightfoot wrote in 2019.

Later, she actively lobbied against the successful effort to create an elected school board at the Illinois statehouse, calling the legislation “a recipe for disaster.”

On the reelection campaign trail, Lightfoot is expected to tout the achievements of her first term despite the fact the majority of that time has been marred by a global pandemic.

One of her main points of pride is her signature Invest South/West program, which she created to boost economic development in 12 commercial corridors in 10 South and West Side community areas.

Her office said the program has led to $1.4 billion in public and private investment in those areas during its first two years.

Lightfoot will also likely tell voters that after 30 years of promises in Chicago, she’s the mayor who is finally bringing a long-awaited casino — and an estimated $200 million in revenue with it — to the city.

“Thirty years and two mayors later, I’m pleased to announce that in 2022, we got this done,” Lightfoot said when she announced the casino bid winner last month.

Lightfoot sees the casino as a major win for the city’s pension funds — which are in dire straits and in need of a long-term revenue source to sustain the retirement funds of city workers — and for union labor. The casino is set to create 3,000 permanent jobs, which, under an agreement with the Chicago Federation of Labor, will be unionized. Union workers showed up in droves to witness the City Council pass the casino.

The pandemic undoubtedly threw a wrench in some of the mayor’s plans. In 2020, for instance, Lightfoot passed what she deemed a “last resort budget” with a budget deficit of $1.2 billion, which relied on $94 million in increases to Chicago’s property taxes.

But that tide turned a bit in 2021, when nearly $2 billion in federal COVID funding allowed the mayor to pass a so-called “recovery budget” that included a slew of popular progressive programs. Perhaps most notably, it funded the city’s first guaranteed basic income program, using $31.5 million to dole out $500 a month to 5,000 Chicago families.

Lightfoot’s tenure has not been without major controversies, turnover in her administration and public battles with other high-ranking officials.

Lightfoot faced one of her most controversial hurdles in the handling of the botched raid on Anjanette Young’s home. A social worker who was getting ready for bed, Young was caught off guard and was naked when police barged into her home under false information and conducted a search without letting her get dressed for nearly 10 minutes.

Under Lightfoot, the city denied open-records requests for the footage of the raid, and sought a federal judge’s order to stop CBS 2 Chicago from airing it. The city also refused to provide the video to Young herself, citing an ongoing police misconduct investigation, until it was court-ordered to do so.

The Chicago Park District also faced allegations of widespread abuse of female lifeguards at the city’s beaches and pools, which dominated news headlines following a WBEZ investigation starting in 2021.

Lightfoot dodged questions about parks CEO Mike Kelly — who oversaw pools and beaches — for weeks before she eventually forced him out amid continued coverage and public outrage from victims. Avis LaVelle later resigned as the board president of the Chicago Park District, who blamed political pressure for her exit.

Throughout her tenure, Lightfoot has built a reputation for being a harsh talker, and aldermen have accused her of being difficult to work with, which has lost her the support of some once-allies, and led to at least two aldermen, so far, running against her.

In December of last year, the Chicago Tribune reported Lightfoot described some aldermen as “full of crap,” “bush league” and “jackass.” Once one of Lightfoot’s closest allies, Ald. Sue Sadlowksi Garza told the Chicago Reader she won’t support Lightfoot for reelection.

“I am sick and tired of being thrown under the bus and having the bus roll over my head. That’s what she’s done to me. That’s what she’s done to my ward. That’s what she’s done to the people that work here. I don’t have anything good to say,” Sadlowski Garza said.

In 2020, when Lightfoot was wrangling votes for her so-called pandemic budget, she reportedly told the council’s Black caucus: “Don’t come to me for s--- for the next three years” if you don’t support the budget, the Tribune reported.

But perhaps first and foremost, Lightfoot will have to contend with the fact that violent crime and carjackings have risen significantly during her tenure, and Chicago saw one of the most violent years in a quarter century in 2021.

Lightfoot has repeatedly pointed her finger at Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Chief Judge Timothy Evans, saying neither are doing enough to keep “violent criminals” behind bars.

Just this week, Lightfoot escalated that feud — going so far as to say that “given the exacting standards that the state’s attorney has for charging a case, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, when those charges are brought up, these people are guilty.” The comment prompted the ACLU of Illinois to criticize Lightfoot for the second time in a month.

Five of Lightfoot’s challengers have said they would improve public safety, in part, by immediately replacing Police Superintendent David Brown, who Lightfoot appointed and continues to support.

Lightfoot had been hinting at her run for weeks and she has been actively fundraising in the first three months of this year, raking in $737,010. According to campaign finance records, she had $1.7 million in the bank as of the end of March.

Among her highest donations: Almost $60,000 from LPAC, which aims to builds political strength and increases representation for and with LGBTQ women; $25,000 from the Illinois Black Business Fund PAC; $15,000 from Latino Leadership Council PAC; $12,000 each from the parking app Spothero, independent, Chicago-based record label Machine Entertainment Group, and Newsweb, owned by Fred Eychner, who also personally gave $6,000.

As of now, the mayor has six challengers: Chicago businessman Willie Wilson; Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward; Chicago police officer Frederick Collins; State Rep. Kam Buckner; former public schools chief Paul Vallas, and Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th Ward.

When asked recently about her latest challenger — Sawyer, who made his bid public just a day after Vallas — Lightfoot quipped: “Another day, another man who thinks he can do this job better than me.”

Correction: The story previously misidentified the publication to which Sadlowski Garza made her comments.

Becky Vevea contributed reporting.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.