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Contrasts abound for 2 black women in Chicago mayoral runoff

Published
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and her daughter Vivian Lightfoot appear with supporters at EvolveHer in Chicago Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Former federal prosecutor Lightfoot, who could become the first African-American woman to lead the nation's third-largest city, was the top vote-getter in a field of 14 that included a member of the Daley family that has dominated Chicago politics for much of the last six decades. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via AP)

CHICAGO (AP) — A political outsider who campaigned on reforming Chicago's police department after a white officer's fatal shooting of a black teenager said Wednesday that voters likely had the high-profile case on their minds when they advanced her to an April runoff for mayor, assuring for the first time a black woman will lead the nation's third-largest city.

Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot's first-place finish in Tuesday's opening round of voting was somewhat surprising considering the 14-candidate field featured prominent state and local leaders and a member of the Daley family that had dominated Chicago politics for more than half a century.

But former Commerce Secretary and White House chief of staff William Daley, whose father and brother both served two-decade stints as mayor, didn't even make it to the runoff to succeed Rahm Emanuel, who isn't seeking a third term.

Instead, Lightfoot's outsider candidacy will be matched up against the ultimate insider, Toni Preckwinkle — a longtime member of the City Council who now holds the top job in Cook County. They are both black women who campaigned as progressives, but that's largely where the similarities end.

Lightfoot rose to prominence after she was appointed to lead the Police Accountability Task Force in the wake of the death of Laquan McDonald. The black teenager was shot 16 times and killed by white police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted and sentenced to about seven years in prison.

"To do honor to Laquan McDonald's short and tragic life we have to make significant changes in the way our police department, in particular, addresses communities of color," Lightfoot told The Associated Press.

Currently, black women serve as mayor of seven major cities. New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina; San Francisco; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have all elected black women leaders for the first time in recent years. Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are also led by black women.

"Welcome to the Sisterhood!! Two African-American Women Are Headed for Runoff in Chicago's Mayor Race," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted Tuesday night.

Black women have had successful mayoral races in smaller cities, too. Karen Weaver was elected Flint, Michigan's mayor as the city reeled from a lead-tainted water crisis while under state control. The issue galvanized black voters behind a reform candidacy much in the same way the McDonald shooting helped promote Lightfoot's campaign.

"We lift each other up and share a common bond," Weaver said of fellow black female mayors.

But Marcus Pohlmann, a political science professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, says the fact two black women finished on top in a crowded race doesn't necessarily mean the racially divided city has suddenly undergone a "progressive breakthrough." Combined, the two candidates barely topped a third of the vote — 17.5 percent for Lightfoot and 16 percent for Preckwinkle. A third black candidate, Willie Wilson, finished fourth in the race with 10 percent.

"I call it a historic opportunity," Pohlmann said. "Once the city recognizes that a black woman can do the job it does break some ice, it does break that glass ceiling and opens the door for more women to seriously be considered."

Blacks make up about a third of Chicago's population. The city has only elected one black mayor, Harold Washington Jr., who was elected in 1983 and died months into his second term. Washington's predecessor, Jane Byrne, is the only woman to serve in the job.

"Organizers campaigned around issues of education, racial economic equity, police accountability, and really young black women have largely been at the forefront of those community organizing efforts," said Elizabeth Todd-Breland, assistant professor of history at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The growing black sorority of city leadership is part of the momentum around black women as candidates and voters across the country, as a key constituency in the Democratic Party. Black women are again expected to impact the 2020 election, with a diverse field of candidates that includes California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who could become the first female president and second African-American.

Preckwinkle now leads one of the largest counties in the country but started her career spending a decade as a high school history teacher. She then was elected a Chicago alderman and did economic development work during the 1980s when Washington served as mayor.

Preckwinkle fared well, in part, in predominantly black areas on the city's South Side. Lightfoot, who is openly gay, got much of her support from wealthier, predominantly white areas along the northern shores of Lake Michigan.

Todd-Breland said having two black women in the runoff to become mayor of a city known for its segregated neighborhoods is historically significant, "given both the city's history of racism and marginalization of African-Americans."

Both women are becoming role models for expanding other women's perspectives and opportunities, Pohlmann said.

"I look at it more as breaking down stereotypes than necessarily assume that a woman is going to do something differently," he said.

___

Williams reported from Detroit. Errin Haines Whack contributed to this report from Philadelphia. AP video producer Noreen Nasir contributed from Chicago.

Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle pauses during her speech at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Bill Daley reacts as he speaks during an election night celebration in Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Supporters at Lori Lightfoot's election party cheer, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Fourteen candidates are jockeying for a spot in what will be an almost certain mayoral runoff. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle greets voters at 95th Red Line Station in Chicago on Election Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle greets voters at 95th Red Line Station in Chicago on Election Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle greets voters at 95th Red Line Station in Chicago on Election Day, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle pauses during her speech at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle pauses during her speech at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Bill Daley reacts as he speaks during an election night celebration in Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago mayoral candidate Bill Daley reacts as he speaks during an election night celebration in Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot addresses the crowd at her election night party as she leads in the polls, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Lightfoot, a federal prosecutor running as an outsider, advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and her daughter Vivian Lightfoot appear with supporters at EvolveHer in Chicago Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Former federal prosecutor Lightfoot, who could become the first African-American woman to lead the nation's third-largest city, was the top vote-getter in a field of 14 that included a member of the Daley family that has dominated Chicago politics for much of the last six decades. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot and her daughter Vivian Lightfoot appear with supporters at EvolveHer in Chicago Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Former federal prosecutor Lightfoot, who could become the first African-American woman to lead the nation's third-largest city, was the top vote-getter in a field of 14 that included a member of the Daley family that has dominated Chicago politics for much of the last six decades. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Supporters at Lori Lightfoot's election party cheer, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Fourteen candidates are jockeying for a spot in what will be an almost certain mayoral runoff. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Supporters at Lori Lightfoot's election party cheer, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Chicago. Fourteen candidates are jockeying for a spot in what will be an almost certain mayoral runoff. (Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle speaks at her election night event in Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Cook County Board President Preckwinkle will face former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a runoff to become Chicago's next mayor. The race will guarantee the nation's third-largest city will be led the next four years by an African-American woman. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)