Chicago makes history by electing black woman as mayor

A former federal prosecutor who has never held elected office has been projected the winner in the Chicago mayor's race Tuesday over a powerful official whose political career spans decades.

Lori Lightfoot will also be Chicago's first openly gay mayor

Lori Lightfoot becomes Chicago's first female black mayor. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/Associated Press)

Political newcomer Lori Lightfoot has been elected mayor of  Chicago, becoming the first black female — and openly gay — leader of the city.

Lightfoot easily defeated Toni Preckwinkle, a former school teacher who served in the City Council for 19 years before becoming Cook County Board president in 2011.

The 56-year-old Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who campaigned on ridding Chicago's government of corruption. She also said she wanted to help low-income and working-class people she believes have been "left behind and ignored" by Chicago's political ruling class.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were the top two vote-getters in the February general election that saw 14 vie to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He decided against running for a third term.

Lightfoot has never been elected to political office. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Chicago will become the largest U.S. city to have a black woman serve as mayor when Lightfoot is sworn in May 20. She will join seven other black women currently serving as mayors in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New Orleans and will be the second woman to lead Chicago.

Lightfoot, 56, and her wife have one daughter.

Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the civil rights organization for lesbian and gay people was "thrilled" with the outcome.

"This victory is historic, and it is also an undeniably proud moment for the LGBTQ community," Johnson said.

Lightfoot seized on outrage over a white police officer's fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald to launch her reformer campaign. That was even before Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he wouldn't seek a third term amid criticism for initially resisting calls to release video of the shooting.

"I'm not a person who decided I would climb the ladder of a corrupt political party," Lightfoot said during a debate last month. "I don't hold the title of committeeman, central committeeman, boss of the party."

Toni Preckwinkle was on Chicago city council for 19 years. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

Preckwinkle had countered that her opponent lacks the necessary experience for the job.

"This is not an entry-level job," Preckwinkle said repeatedly during the campaign. "It's easy to talk about change. It's hard to actually do it. And that's been my experience — being a change maker, a change agent, transforming institutions and communities."

Joyce Ross, 64, a resident of the city's predominantly black West Side who is a certified nursing assistant, cast her ballot Tuesday for Lightfoot. Ross said she believes Lightfoot will be better able to clean up the police department and curb city's violence.

She was also bothered by Preckwinkle's association with longtime Alderman Ed Burke, who was indicted earlier this year on charges he tried to shake down a restaurant owner who wanted to build in his ward.

"My momma always said birds of a feather flock together," Ross said.

Lightfoot told voters she would focus on investing in West and South Side Chicago neighbourhoods. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

The campaign between the two women got off to a contentious start, with Preckwinkle's advertising focusing on Lightfoot's work as a partner at Mayer Brown, one of the nation's largest law firms, and tagging her as a "wealthy corporate lawyer."

Preckwinkle also tried to cast Lightfoot as an insider for working in police oversight posts under Emanuel and police oversight, procurement and emergency communications posts under Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In one ad, Preckwinkle criticized Lightfoot's oversight of the emergency communications in 2004 when a fire killed four children. A judge ordered Lightfoot to preserve 911 tapes after questions were raised about how the emergency call was handled. The ad notes some of the tapes were destroyed, prompting the judge to rebuke Lightfoot. The ad sparked a backlash from the family of three of the children killed, with their sister accusing Preckwinkle of trying to take advantage of her family's tragedy.

Lightfoot responded by scolding her opponent for being negative while also airing ads pointing out Preckwinkle's connection to powerful local Democrats, including one under federal indictment.

Similar ideas 

Despite the barbs on the campaign trail, the two advanced similar ideas to boost the city's deeply troubled finances, which include an estimated $250 million US budget deficit next year and billions in unfunded pension liabilities.

Both candidates expressed support for a casino in Chicago and changing the state's income tax system to a graduated tax, in which higher earners are taxed at a higher rate — two measures lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully for years to pass.

Lightfoot said that as mayor, she would focus on investing in neighbourhoods on the West and South Sides and bring transparency and accountability to City Hall. She added she also wants to end City Hall corruption and restore people's faith in government.