Column: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s re-election chances are improving – Crain’s Chicago Business

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So, where does that leave the race for mayor? About where it has been for awhile now. Lori Lightfoot ought to be in political trouble. She is in some political trouble. But her prospects to survive it all continue to improve. She even can point to what now appears to be a late but real turnaround in the city’s crime numbers, with total shooting incidents down 19% year to date as of July 22, though still up 30% compared to pre-pandemic 2019.

The best news for Lightfoot is that the really big names, folks with instant name recognition and guaranteed financial backing, aren’t in the contest and don’t look like they will get in. Like U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago. Or former U.S. Transportation Secretary Arne Duncan, though some business leaders are still actively wooing him. Or former Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, who has told lots of people lately that he’s quite happy in the private sector. The lesser-known Ald. Brian Hopkins, 2nd, has a similar appeal but is running out of time to make a move.

Some think ex-Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has a lane—moderate conservative voice of reason—into a runoff election, with neither Lightfoot nor anyone else likely to get the 50% plus one needed to avoid a runoff. Vallas, who entered the race in June, is doing better on fundraising than usual, with more than $2 million in cash and commitments. A runoff between him and Lightfoot sure would be interesting. But can Vallas find campaign discipline? Can he come across not as a cranky codger but the seasoned hand Chicago needs in a time of trouble?

Political progressives are vying in another lane. But which progressive?

Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates could be a formidable contender, but has gone dead quiet lately. Others with politics similar to hers are state Rep. Kam Buckner, who’s already in the race; U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who texts that he’s “not currently thinking of running”; Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who failed to return calls seeking comment; and Ald. Sophia King, 4th, who says only, “It’s kind of hard not to consider running, given all of the things that are going on in the city.”

King, in my view, would be particularly dangerous to Lightfoot: a Black woman, on the progressive side, with appeal to lakefront voters. But if she could hurt Lightfoot, are her odds of getting to the runoff good enough to give up a relatively safe City Council seat?

Then there are other candidates already in the race, like Ald. Ray Lopez, 15th, the only Latino now in the contest, and businessman Willie Wilson, whose Santa Claus impersonation on the campaign trail has made him very popular among some voters. Ex-Gov. Pat Quinn is clearly interested in running, though the issue he’s talking about—term limits—seems more a blast from the past than a current winning issue.

While much of the rest of the potential field continues to dither, Lightfoot has stepped up her game. Her fundraising, while not great, has improved. She’s figured out how to emulate Wilson with city money. She’s learned to think out of the box on big picture items, such as the proposed NASCAR race downtown and a dome for Soldier Field that you’ll be hearing about real soon. And while business leaders are less than thrilled with Lightfoot’s performance, they’re even more worried about some of the other people running.

Bottom line as the candidates get ready to pass nominating petitions at the end of August: Lightfoot’s odds are rising.

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July 25, 2022 at 07:08AM

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