Lightfoot ad attacks Garcia, questions ties to indicted powerhouses Madigan, Bankman-Fried

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is airing an attack ad focused on mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has argued that “defining and challenging” her opponents is her obligation to voters. It doesn’t mean she’s dragging the mayoral campaign into the mud.

Whatever you call it, the strategy started this week when Lightfoot released a hard-hitting but somewhat humorous commercial tying the apparent frontrunner, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., to a pair of indicted political powerhouses: onetime cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The 30-second spot opens with Garcia’s head attached to a cartoonish suit standing at a podium waving both arms in the air as a narrator asks, “What do we really know about Chuy Garcia?”

Enter Bankman-Fried’s head, attached to a suit, with an “Indicted” sign around his neck. A drop-down sign reads, “$200,000 from Sam Bankman-Fried.”

Madigan’s head on a suit with a similar “Indicted” sign around his neck then appears on the other side of the podium as the Garcia figure smiles, waves his arms and raises his exaggerated eyebrows in glee.

“Chuy secretly talked with this crypto crook who stole his customers’ life savings, then spent a fortune to re-elect Garcia. Chuy cut deals to help himself with a since-indicted Mike Madigan, even while the disgraced speaker faced a federal corruption investigation,” the narrator says.

Bankman-Fried is the wunderkind co-founder of FTX who spent $151,420 on direct mail pieces that introduced Garcia to voters of his newly remapped congressional district.

At the time, Garcia was running unopposed in the Democratic primary in a safe district where his little-known Republican opponent was neither raising nor spending money. Garcia is also a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, which regulates portions of the digital assets industry that includes cryptocurrency.

But veteran political strategist Delmarie Cobb called it a “desperate” move for Lightfoot to go so negative so early.

“This is the period where you need to talk about yourself — not about your opponent. You need to make the case for why you deserve a second term,” Cobb said.

Stephen Caliendo, a professor of political science at North Central College, said Lightfoot’s strategy of going hard out of the gate against Garcia tells him her own internal polling shows Garcia’s “negatives need to be higher for her to have a good chance to win.”

He called it “a recognition that he poses a significant threat and simply running on her record and what she hopes to do in a second term won’t be enough.” 

Caliendo said the Lightfoot ad is “effective” in using “humor and puppeteering” to question Garcia’s ties to Madigan and Bankman-Fried. But it’s also risky.

If Garcia is Lightfoot’s only target, or she runs out of money before she can afford to attack her other opponents, Caliendo said, she risks clearing a path for another formidable challenger, like former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.

Vallas hit the airwaves with his own six-figure buy Wednesday, hammering away at violent crime.

“Crime is out of control and combative leadership is failing us,” Vallas says in his ad, talking directly into the camera, standing in front of City Hall, where he worked for years as former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s budget and revenue director.

The ad then shows Vallas walking through a parking lot with two Black police officers dressed in plainclothes.

Vallas vows, among other things, to “hold department leadership accountable” and “put more police on our streets and public transportation.”

Not to be outdone, mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson launched a “seven-figure” ad buy introducing himself to Chicago voters.

“Brandon Johnson has a plan to make Chicago safer, grow Chicago businesses and create jobs. Brandon’s plan will improve Chicago schools for all of our kids. For mayor, Brandon Johnson is better for Chicago,” the narrator says.

The Garcia campaign said Lightfoot is “resorting to more lies and desperate attacks” to avoid answering questions about her own ties.

“Lori proclaimed the ‘sky is the limit’ and cut the ribbon for Sam Bankman-Fried’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago as they tied anti-poverty funding to their fraudulent company,” the Garcia campaign statement said.

“She can lie all she wants to try and turn around her losing campaign, but Chicagoans will hold her accountable for failing to keep them safe as mayor.”

In an interview Wednesday with WBBM-AM Radio reporter Craig Dellimore, Lightfoot countered that it is “fair” to question the past associations of a candidate whose “patrons” have proclaimed him the mayoral frontrunner.

“We’re also gonna be educating the voters about others in this race who say they’re one thing, claim that they’re something, but the record shows something very different,” the mayor said.

Lightfoot branded Garcia’s past associations “very concerning … not just recently but going back some time and said those ties deserve further inquiry.”


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January 4, 2023 at 10:26PM

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