Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is in a runoff for Chicago mayor. Photo courtesy Toni For Chicago
April 2 (UPI) -- Chicago will make history on Tuesday by electing the city's first African-American female mayor.
Whether former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot or Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle emerges victorious, Chicago will become the largest city in the United States to elect a black woman as its leader.
Lightfoot edged out Preckwinkle by a point and a half in February and the two bested a field of a dozen other candidates to force Tuesday's runoff. Recent poll figures show Lightfoot with a lead over Preckwinkle.
In recent weeks, the campaigns have taken on a harsh tone as both Democrats vie for the opportunity to succeed Rahm Emanuel.
Both candidates share a similar progressive vision for Chicago, but their differing political backgrounds will likely set them apart in the eyes of the city's voters and each has touted their progressive credentials in what's been a fierce race for the last two months.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Lightfoot, 56, most recently a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown LLP, has a background as an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division. She has most notably been involved in oversight of the city's law enforcement, serving as chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, president of the Chicago Police Board and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. The task force released a report in 2016 that said Chicago's police force was plagued by public mistrust and institutional racism that led to the mistreatment of citizens, especially African Americans.
Lightfoot also worked as chief of staff of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications and first deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services, where she aimed to revise the city's minority and female-owned business certification and compliance programs.
Her mayoral platform centered around eliminating corruption in the police department and city government, as well as pro-immigrant stances. If elected, she would become the city's first openly gay mayor, and says she'd guarantee lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender participation in city government.
Lightfoot has positioned herself as a political outsider looking to shake up the political landscape, in contrast to Preckwinkle's image as a longtime member of the city government.
"The forces of the status quo are tough. The machine was built to last," she told supporters at an event on Saturday. "But we can overcome it if we unite together with our brothers and sisters all over this city and speak in one clear voice that change is coming."
Preckwinkle, 71, was elected alderwoman for Chicago's Fourth Ward in 1991 and served in the role for 20 years before she became president of the Cook County board, where she served until beginning her campaign for mayor.
Throughout her career, she worked to reduce the jail population in Cook County, supported decriminalization of marijuana -- and in a political misstep, she passed a penny-per-ounce soda tax that was repealed after heavy criticism that it negatively affected the poor.
She built her mayoral platform on many of the same ideas, in addition to calling on her roots as a school teacher to fight for an elected school board and against private charter schools.
Preckwinkle's campaign sought to paint her as a seasoned politician, but not part of the Chicago "machine." At a campaign event Saturday, the candidate -- who's 15 years older than Lightfoot -- questioned the potential pitfalls of her opponent's "inexperience."
"Are we going to have somebody in the mayor's office who spent their life in public service, or somebody who's spent their life protecting the powerful against the people?" she asked a crowd of supporters. "Are we going to have somebody in office who has had experience as a local elected official and managing a large organization, or somebody who is a newcomer and has never held office before?"
End of a fierce campaign
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle assailed each other's backgrounds in a truncated two-month campaign that was filled with public barbs. During the first round of voting, Lightfoot criticized Preckwinkle and a handful of other candidates for their connections to former Alderman Ed Burke, who was charged with attempted extortion in January.
"It's like cockroaches -- there's a light that's shined on them they scramble," she said.
As the runoff race began, Lightfoot accused Preckwinkle of falsely stating she received the endorsements of two City Council members who support President Donald Trump, and "blowing some kind of dog whistle" to conservative voters by mentioning her sexual orientation at a debate.
Preckwinkle's campaign seized on Lightfoot's work in corporate law and her efforts with the Chicago Police Department. She said during Lightfoot's law career she defended companies that had been accused of age and race discrimination.
One of Preckwinkle's supporters, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, went so far as to say Lightfoot played a role in the harmful relationship between Chicago's police force and minority communities.
"Everyone who votes for Lori [Lightfoot], the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands," he said.
On Saturday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged both candidates to sign a pledge for a "day of unity" after the election to settle the fierce nature of the divisive campaign.
"Tuesday, the race will be over," said Jackson. "The healing must begin."
Lightfoot and Preckwinkle signed the pledge in separate appearances at the headquarters of Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
"Whereas our task in running for office is done, we realize as leaders we must show Chicago and the nation how we can win with grace and lose with dignity. In a real sense, both of us are winners," the pledge stated.
Preckwinkle said she hopes they both can focus on reaching a common goal when the election is finally settled, no matter who wins.
"The commitment needs to be to work together for the interests of the people of the city of Chicago," she said.
Lightfoot expressed desire for a similar commitment.
"If I lose, I'm going to congratulate her and continue to fight for the things that are important," she said.