Posted on January 4, 2019

In Crowded Chicago Mayoral Election, Women of Color Dominate the Field

Mark Guarino, Washington Post, December 30, 2018

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term has given this city something it has never seen in its 181-year history: an election dominated by women of color.

A record 21 people — mostly Democrats — filed petitions to succeed Emanuel, though some have since dropped from the ballot. Among the top-tier candidates in the Feb. 26 election are five women of color, including the two front-runners: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

Preckwinkle, a former alderman, is the first black person to chair the Cook County Democratic Party and the first woman to head the county board. Mendoza, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up in Little Village, a primarily Hispanic neighborhood besieged by gangs, an experience that she says gave her a close-up view of the city’s gun violence problem.


In Chicago, tensions have boiled over between communities of color and Emanuel, who is white, over his perceived favor for downtown development at the expense of the historically marginalized neighborhoods on the South Side and West Side. An epidemic of gun violence, an unprecedented number of school closings and an ongoing police reform crisis galvanized a protest movement that has put Emanuel on continual defense.

Maze Jackson, the morning host of WVON, a news radio station focused on Chicago’s black community, said the potential for a black or Hispanic woman running Chicago would be “game-changing,” which is why he predicts the run-up to the February election is going to get ugly.

“This thing is going to get so tribal,” he said. “This will be an exciting time in Chicago.”

Gender and racial allegiances have become central in the heated election. {snip}

After opponents criticized her for receiving campaign donations from Ed Burke, a longtime City Council member whose offices were recently raided by the FBI, Preckwinkle announced plans to hand over the $12,800 in donations to two Latino organizations.

Mendoza gave her $10,326 in Burke donations to the families of three Chicago police officers who were killed in the line of duty.


In addition to Mendoza and Preckwinkle, three other women of color are among the top-tier candidates in Chicago: former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, community activist Amara Enyia and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown. They are in a field that includes Bill Daley, son of former mayor Richard J. Daley and also White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama; former Chicago Public Schools chief executive Paul Vallas; and former Chicago Police superintendent Garry McCarthy.


Mendoza and Preckwinkle have ties to the city’s political establishment: Preckwinkle as a five-term alderman who now leads the county’s Democratic Party and Mendoza serving in various elective positions for nearly two decades. They have bashed each other as establishment hacks who are attached to the political machine responsible for ushering most of Chicago’s male mayors to the executive office for decades.


It signals a possible shift in the allegiances of Chicago’s electorate. In the 2015 election, Emanuel received more support in majority-black areas than millionaire Willie Wilson, who is black, and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is Hispanic. During a runoff with Garcia, Emanuel won in majority-black precincts by 57 percent, according to a post-race analysis by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. (Garcia won the much smaller Hispanic vote.)

Other women of color in the mayoral race have positioned themselves as outsiders with no allegiance to establishment politics.