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Chicago Makes History As Election Guarantees City Will Have First Black Female Mayor


People in Chicago made history yesterday when they voted for the city's next mayor. The election was not decisive. There will be a runoff in April between two African-American women. In choosing them over a familiar Chicago name, voters showed the city is ready to turn a corner, as NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In the wide open race for Chicago's mayor, out of a record 14 candidates, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot was one of those who many insiders said looked good on paper but lacked the political chops and organization to win. They were wrong, and Lightfoot addressed that at last night's victory party.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: So what do you think of us now?


SCHAPER: Lightfoot won just 17 percent of the vote, but that was enough for first place in the crowded field.


LIGHTFOOT: This, my friends, is what change looks like.


SCHAPER: Lori Lightfoot is a newcomer to electoral politics. She's openly gay and one of two African-American women advancing to the runoff. The other is a veteran of this city's rough-and-tumble political game, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who won 16 percent of the vote.


TONI PRECKWINKLE: Good morning, everyone.

SCHAPER: Braving bitter cold temperatures, Preckwinkle was in a warm mood greeting commuters at the 95th Street L stop this morning.


PRECKWINKLE: Thank you very much for being here. I just want to express my appreciation to all the good people in Chicago.

SCHAPER: The victories of these two progressive black women are certainly historic, but so, too, is who they beat, Bill Daley, the son and brother of the two longest-serving mayors in Chicago history.

DELMARIE COBB: Bill Daley, the message is, your time has passed.

SCHAPER: Delmarie Cobb is a veteran political consultant here.

COBB: We've had Daleys for 43 years, and we don't need another one.

SCHAPER: Daley came in third with only about 15 percent of the vote, a mighty fall from the landslide victories of his father and brother, who often racked up 70 percent or more of the city vote.

RICH PLANTAN: I don't think anybody with the name Daley has a chance anymore.

SCHAPER: At a coffee shop on the city's northwest side, 56-year-old Rich Plantan says Bill Daley suffered from the shaky financial moves made by the second Mayor Daley, Richard M.

PLANTAN: I thought because of his brother's screw-up with the parking meter and leaving the city broke and blah, blah, blah, that the Daley name would be mud.

ABBY PROW: I'm actually - I'm thrilled with the results.

SCHAPER: Wearing a Women's March on Washington sweatshirt, 36-year-old Abby Prow thinks the rise of two black women here is about much more than just an anti-Daley mood.

PROW: I think people are sick of the same old, same old, the - Chicago especially (laughter) - the Chicago politics that are involved. And it would be nice to have somebody that's a little bit more in touch.

SCHAPER: That Chicago way, as some here call it, is a Balkanization in which alliances have traditionally formed around racial, geographic, economic and power dynamics. Instead there appears to be a shift similar to that within the Democratic Party nationally towards more progressive ideals.

JOE GRANT: I think we are really in potentially what's a transformative moment for Chicago politics.

SCHAPER: Joe Grant is with the ONE People's Campaign, a political group that did not endorse any mayoral candidate but backed several progressives in Chicago's city council races.

GRANT: This was an election where there were a lot of longtime incumbents who were challenged by - challenged from the left by strong progressive challengers and where voters really came out with the message that they want to see a change.

SCHAPER: That change is towards less favoritism to downtown developers and the corporate elite and a new focus on neighborhoods scarred by disinvestment with affordable housing and better schools and policing. Chicago's department will soon be under a federal court order to reform after decades of racial bias in the use of excessive force.

Right now the two runoff candidates are already trying to one-up each other in terms of who is Chicago's true progressive. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: An earlier headline incorrectly said Chicago had elected its first black female mayor. The top two candidates in the mayoral election were both black women, meaning that Chicago will elect its first black female mayor in an April 2 runoff.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier headline incorrectly said Chicago had elected its first black female mayor. The top two candidates in the mayoral election were both black women, meaning that Chicago will elect its first black female mayor in an April 2 runoff.
David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.