Erin Allen: Good afternoon. I'm Erin Allen and this is The Rundown. 10 people are competing with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the February municipal election. Lightfoot has folks who are backing her from her first run, and she has some newcomers to her fan base. Others are still on the fence or planning to go a totally different way next year. Here to give us a sense of where people are coming from is WBEZ city politics reporter Mariah Woelfel. Mariah, hi.
Mariah Woelfel: Hi, Erin.
Erin Allen: So let's start with a quick catch up for transplants like myself, how has support for the mayor evolved from her first campaign to where we are now?
Mariah Woelfel: Sure. So the mayor is really looking at whether she's going to be able to bring back her main base of 2019 and, you know, create a new one. So in 2019, the mayor was really thrust into office by white liberal voters along the lakefront, arguably her strongest base in the 2019 runoff election. These were people who were excited about the mayor making history as the first black gay woman mayor in Chicago, she ran as a progressive reform candidate who is going to put an end to the old Chicago political machine. The mayor is also trying to create a really strong base on the South and West Sides among black voters. She wants to communicate to people that she's the first mayor in a long time to invest in those areas that have been ignored by city officials for decades.
She's highlighting a signature program called Invest Southwest, which targets 10 high need areas and tries to leverage, you know, public dollar incentives to get private investment. You know, some analyses have showed that that program has been slow to get off the ground. And so I think its effectiveness is still up in the air, you know, for debate, but Lightfoot is really trying to paint herself as a mayor who has done, you know, you've heard her say it herself - the most for the black community. Her campaign says they're working to attract every voter and that they think they have accomplishments for everyone. But the mayor has also made many enemies in her four years as well.
Erin Allen: Yeah, speaking of making enemies versus being attractive to people, I've noticed there seems to be a lot of conversation about Mayor Lori Lightfoot's temperament, for better or for worse. How do people generally experience her?
Mariah Woelfel: Yeah, so when you say for better or for worse, I mean, one of the things that Lightfoot says is the reason people fixate on her temperament is because she's a black woman, and she's a gay woman and her identity makes her the target of more criticism than she would get if she were, say, a white man. And I think that that's very valid in many ways. I think that the criticisms you see about her temperament from her critics are people saying your inability to compromise and to work with people has led to slowed progress. You know, she's butted heads with the Chicago City Council that has led to very dramatic days and long drawn out fights over policy changes in the city, with aldermen, who are also eager to kind of get things done, who came in as reform progressive candidates.
She has butted heads with Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx over how to stem violence in the city. Those has been public drawn out debates, or, you know, arguments with with Kim Foxx and she's butted heads with the Chicago Teachers Union. This was no surprise that Chicago Teachers Union ran an opponent against her in 2019. They have always been anti Lori Lightfoot. And with the Chicago police union for whatever staff you want to put in that she has butted heads with their president throughout his time leading the union. And it's really a case of she's not progressive enough, and she's too progressive, from two unions who are on the opposite side of the spectrum. And some experts will say you know that that works well for Lightfoot because even though she's made these big enemies with these two unions, those two unions are not and will not be unified. So her opponents are a bit fragmented.
Erin Allen: Yeah. You talked about the Chicago City Council and a lot of disconnect that's happening there. And a lot of Aldermen have just left their their post, right, they've quit. What is the main root of that? Or are there many things?
Mariah Woelfel: Yeah, it's hard to talk about one main thing because depending on who you talk to, everyone has a different reason. One, it's just natural turnover. You know, some aldermen don't sit for more than two terms. Some come into office and say they want to do. They want to do a few things. They want to get a few things done for their ward. And then they end up you know, either just just wanting to move on for whatever reason, some took jobs and in the private sector, another left because she wants to spend, you know, she's just getting older wants to spend more time with her family. But there are multiple factors at play. You know, this past four years in the Chicago City Council have not been easy one, because there's been a global pandemic. Two, because there has been this consistent friction between different factions of the city council and the mayor.
In 2019, we saw a wave of democratic socialists, aldermen, and progressive aldermen get elected into office with Lightfoot, who really wanted to make a change, who really wanted to be legislators in the traditional sense of coming up with and pushing for city wide policy as opposed to the more traditional role of an alderman, which is keeping the lights on, getting garbage picked up, getting people new garbage cans, keeping the streets clean. And so there's this friction because traditionally, the role of policymaking has been left to the mayor in Chicago, the mayor comes up with their city wide policy and the aldermen who are her allies who want you know, her support, they back her policy. And that has not always been the case in this Chicago City Council that has led to a lot of friction, a lot of public fights. And so I think that that has contributed to this turnover that we're seeing, you know whether that turnover is unprecedented is up for debate. But it surely is remarkable this season that we're going to have many open seats as we head into the election.
Erin Allen: Thank you for for going through that. That's really helpful. You mentioned in your story that although Lori Lightfoot has raised more funds than the vast majority of other candidates for this upcoming election, she has struggled to do so for her reelection campaign. Why would you say that is?
Mariah Woelfel: Part of the reason is that people are waiting to see what this field is going to look like there are 11 candidates right now. But we are going through this process in Chicago politics, that's where opponents challenge one another's petitions and the signatures on their petitions to make sure those signatures are valid. You know, there may be some big donors who are kind of waiting to see what this field will look like.
Erin Allen: All right, so getting forward to the actual election, seems like a runoff is pretty likely, given how many candidates will be on the ballot next year. You've got a great quote from Reverend Ira Acree, one of the primary supporters of Lightfoot back in 2019, where he says if he's going with his heart, he'll probably go with her. But if he's going with his head, he'll probably go for a contender, Jesús "Chuy" Garcia. How would you say this compares with other folks who have come across who are on the fence voters? Is it a head versus heart question? Or are there other primary factors coming forward for people?
Mariah Woelfel: Well, I think especially for voters who are just tuning in now, who maybe haven't been, you know, up close and personal watching everything that's happened in the past four years. And if you have as a regular person, I'm sorry for you, you should take a break. But, you know, I think the calculation people are making right now is trying to look at what Lightfoot has done in her four years, look at her actual track record. Because I think, you know, the mayor is one of the easiest people to criticize. And so there is a lot of criticism out there about Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the majority of which I think is very fair.
But I think people are trying to decide how much stock to put in that criticism and to look at their daily lives and see, you know, whether they think the city is in a better place, given the fact that we dealt with a spike in violence that hit cities across the country through the pandemic, and the global pandemic. You know, she's in a tough place where people are evaluating, evaluating her tenure, which happened at one of the worst times for all of us, throughout the country. And so I think people are considering those factors. And yeah, I think it's a - I think for a lot of people it will be a head versus heart decision and trying to decide what factors contribute to each of those.
Erin Allen: Yeah. Mariah Woelfel is a city politics reporter at WBEZ. Mariah, thank you so much for joining today and breaking this down for us.
Mariah Woelfel: Thanks for having me on.
Erin Allen: And that's it today for the rundown. I'm Erin Allen. I'll be back with you tomorrow, bright and early. Talk to you then.
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