Ald. Ray Lopez’s bid for mayor could energize LGBTQ activists, voters

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Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) holds hands with his husband, Hugo Lopez, after announcing he is running for mayor of Chicago in 2023, during a news conference on April 6.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

Is the entry of Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) into the 2023 mayoral race setting up a battle royale in Chicago’s LGBTQ community?

Days ago, Lopez launched an insurgent campaign to oust Mayor Lori Lightfoot from City Hall. “I love my city and, like most Chicagoans, I am sick and tired of watching Chicago flounder at the hands of a rudderless ship,” he tweeted Wednesday morning. “The time is now to provide our great City with the compassion and leadership it deserves.”

The two-term, Southwest Side alderperson is Mexican American and openly gay, and was elected to the City Council in 2015.

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If elected mayor, he would make history — as Lightfoot did. Lopez would be the first openly gay and Latino person to serve as mayor. In 2019, Lightfoot was elected Chicago’s first openly lesbian and Black female mayor.

Like Lightfoot, Lopez could energize and excite LGBTQ activists and voters eager to gain power.

Lopez has been a vocal Lightfoot critic since the day she was inaugurated. A battle between two openly gay politicians could be another moment to demonstrate their clout.

LGBTQ politicians are a growing political force, with astute, seasoned advocates and influential establishment figures behind them.

The fact that prominent LGBTQ politicians are vying for mayor “is a sign of great progress,” said Tracy Baim, a longtime activist and co-founder of Windy City Times, the LGBTQ media outlet.

The first openly gay politician, Cook County Judge Tom Chiola, was elected in 1994, she noted. Now, LGBTQ power “is deeply embedded within the electoral system.”

Lightfoot has a major head start in this race. Her election was propelled by endorsements and campaign cash from a wide array of gay interests, including Illinois’ preeminent gay rights group, Equality Illinois; business leaders such as Art Johnston, a proprietor of Sidetracks, the iconic gay bar in the Northalsted community; and Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. Ald. Tom Tunney (44), Chicago’s first gay alderperson, is a top Lightfoot ally in City Council.

In 2016, Lopez co-sponsored the city’s Equal Access Ordinance, which provides that patrons are not required to prove their gender identities to use facilities in hotels, restaurants and stores.

He won the endorsement of the Equality Illinois PAC in his first aldermanic run in 2015, and again for his 2019 campaign.

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Yet Lopez is better known as a conservative-leaning Democrat. His law-and-order, pro-police message will appeal to some Latino voters, as well as conservative white voters on the city’s Northwest and Southwest sides.

Positions that matter in the LGBTQ community, like transgender rights and protections, might not play as well in those communities.

Next February’s mayoral election will be fiercely competitive. The city’s LBGTQ vote is small, but it could make the difference in a crowded race.

Some LGBTQ activists tell me they want to see Lopez actively back their pressing causes.

Does a gay politician have to put those issues front and center to be legitimate? The voters will tell us.

Baim points to Precious Brady-Davis, a transgender activist who is running in the Cook County Metropolitan Water Reclamation District race to succeed Debra Shore. In 2006, Shore made history when she was the first open lesbian elected countywide. Equality Illinois Co-founder Rick Garcia is also running for the seat.

“This makes the ballot box choices more about policy than identity, because there are all political persuasions within the (LGBTQ+) community,” Baim said. “Just as women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other communities face off against one another in heated political battles, the LGBTQ+ community has a recent history of this as well.”

Laura Washington is a political analyst for ABC 7. Follow her on Twitter @MediaDervish

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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April 9, 2022 at 05:33AM

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