(AP Photo/Erin Hooley, File)

Lori Lightfoot Is Fighting for Her Political Survival in Chicago’s Mayor Election

The Chicago mayoral race is likely headed for a runoff as Mayor Lori Lightfoot fights for her political survival against eight opponents after a turbulent first term.


Chicago voters are headed to the polls Tuesday to elect the mayor of America’s third-largest city. The mayoral race is likely headed for a runoff as Mayor Lori Lightfoot fights for her political survival against eight opponents after a turbulent first term.

  • The Chicago mayoral election has been dominated by voter concerns over a single issue: crime. Chicago has a higher murder rate than New York or Los Angeles and the number of homicides hit a 25-year high in 2021 with 797 murders. Carjackings and robberies are also on the rise.
  • The Democratic incumbent must defeat challengers from her left and her right to win a second term leading the Windy City. Her three top competitors are former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas, who is running to her right on crime, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, running as the left-wing candidate, and Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, who is ideologically similar to Lightfoot.
  • State Rep. Kam Buckner, Alderwoman Sophia King, Alderman Roderick Sawyer, perennial candidate and businessman Willie Wilson and activist Ja’Mal Green round out the field, although all are polling a significant distance behind the four leading candidates.
  • A poll conducted by Victory Research on the eve of the election found Vallas, the candidate endorsed by the Chicago police union, leading the field with 27 percent of the vote. Behind Vallas there is a three-way tie for second between progressive Brandon Johnson (20 percent), Lightfoot (19 percent) and Chuy Garcia (16 percent).
  • This survey is just the latest in a string of polls to show Lori Lightfoot falling behind her three leading rivals. Lightfoot herself made the runoff in 2019 after polling in single digits for much of the race, a reminder that anything can happen.
  • Vallas, the lone white candidate in the field, has made tackling Chicago’s crime crisis the central issue of his campaign. Polls show Vallas is likely to make the runoff and leading his opponents in head-to-head matchups. Johnson, running as the outspoken left-wing candidate, is benefitting from a late polling surge and may have the momentum to seize the other runoff berth and block out Lightfoot.
  • Lightfoot rose to power in 2019 after coming out on top of a field of 14 candidates. A political newcomer, she made it into the runoff with a relatively small vote share and then crushed her Democratic machine-backed opponent in a landslide by running as an outsider gunning to clean up Chicago.
  • The first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as Chicago mayor, Lightfoot’s term has been dominated by clashes with the police and teachers unions, the Covid-19 pandemic, a public transit system in crisis, and surging crime rates that have battered her popularity and alienated many of her core supporters.
  • The results may not be known on election night. More than 100,000 mail ballots were requested and have yet to be returned. So long as the ballots are postmarked by Feb. 28, they will be accepted until March 14.
  • If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first-round vote, the top two finishers will move on to a runoff election on April 4. Given the competitive nine-candidate field and fluid polling that has shown five candidates earning double-digit support, Chicago appears likely to be heading to a runoff for the third mayoral election in a row.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New Yorker interviewed Chicago’s “embattled mayor,” who’s campaign is struggling as many of her former supporters have abandoned her and only 36 percent of the voters think she deserves another term. Several observers pointed to Lightfoot’s “combativeness” as a key factor behind her paucity of allies.
  • The Washington Post noted the primary is breaking down along racial lines. Paul Vallas, the only white candidate, is running as a moderate, while Chuy Garcia, the lone Hispanic candidate, is focusing his campaign on Hispanic neighborhoods and media. Meanwhile Lightfoot and Johnson, who is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union, are splitting the Black vote with four other candidates.
  • As the New York Times observed, Lightfoot’s reelection struggles are a far cry from 2019, when she won every ward in the city in the runoff election. Lightfoot’s feuds with unions and City Council and skyrocketing murder rates were again cited as contributors to her sinking polls.



  • Fox News covered the backlash Lightfoot earned for suggesting her poor poll numbers are due to her race and gender instead of skyrocketing crime rates. “I’m a Black woman and, let’s not forget, some folks frankly don’t support us in leadership roles,” Lightfoot said in an interview. Lightfoot herself won the 2019 mayoral race by defeating another Black woman in the runoff.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported several Chicago business leaders have abandoned Lightfoot for moderate Democrat Paul Vallas amid rising crime rates and a series of companies choosing to relocate from Chicago. These defections are notable because “the corporate community in America’s third-largest city generally enjoyed good relations with City Hall.”
  • Breitbart noted that some of the Democratic mayoral candidates are seemingly taking a page out of the Republican campaign playbook by campaigning against out-of-control crime, pushing to hire hundreds more police officers and tarring opponents as supporters of defunding the police.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023