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"Out of the frying pan..." Vol II
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Posted by: TEEBONE ®

03/30/2019, 15:36:13

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Chicago Prepares to Elect First Black Woman as Mayor

Erin Ailworth and Douglas Belkin
5-6 minutes
Lori Lightfoot, left, and Toni Preckwinkle, right, face off in Tuesday’s mayoral election in Chicago.

Days before voters are set to elect Chicago’s first black woman mayor, the two candidates sparred over how best to tackle the city’s faltering finances, pervasive violence and distrust of local police.

But they had to compete with the Jussie Smollett case for attention.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot in a televised debate before the Tuesday vote both called on prosecutors at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to better explain a controversial decision to dismiss charges against Mr. Smollett, the “Empire” actor accused of faking a hate crime against himself.

“The concern is the optics,” Ms. Lightfoot said. “The optics look like if you are rich and famous, you’ve got one kind of justice and if you’re everybody else, it’s something entirely different.”

Ms. Preckwinkle called for a Cook County judge to release the court record, which was sealed earlier this week.

“There are a lot of questions,” she said. “Only through a focus on transparency and accountability can, I think, the public have some confidence that justice was done.”

Tuesday’s runoff vote to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who chose not to seek a third term, comes after the Feb. 26 election—a wide-open race that pitted more than a dozen candidates against each other. The lack of an overwhelming favorite from the beginning is rare in the nation’s third-largest city, which has long been led by towering figures like Richard J. and Richard M. Daley and Mr. Emanuel. Ms. Preckwinkle and Ms. Lightfoot are vying to run a city with huge underfunded pension liabilities, a falling-but-still-high murder rate and a struggling school system.

Ms. Preckwinkle had an early lead in the first round, but her political fortunes fell as a litany of corruption charges hit the Cook County Democratic Party, which she leads. “It’s like an albatross around her neck,” said Jaime Dominguez, a professor of political science at Northwestern University.

Ms. Preckwinkle has tried to distance herself from the corruption troubles, and said the voters she has spoken with are focused on discussing jobs, schools and the issues affecting their neighborhoods.

Ms. Lightfoot was the surprise winner in the February ballot, with Ms. Preckwinkle at No. 2, setting Tuesday’s contest.

A recent poll of 500 Chicago voters showed 53% of voters supporting or leaning toward Ms. Lightfoot, compared with just 17% for Ms. Preckwinkle. Nearly 30% of voters remained undecided, according to the Temkin/Harris Poll with Crain’s Chicago Business and WTTW, which regularly surveys Chicago voters on state and local issues.

Moody’s Investors Service, one of the three major credit-ratings firms, rates the city below investment grade, a status commonly referred to as “junk.”

One big reason: the city’s massive pension liabilities. Its four major public pensions have a combined funding level of only 26%, a shortfall of $28 billion.

“The next mayor is going to have a huge fiscal challenge,” said Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance at the University of Chicago.

Ms. Preckwinkle said she supports a progressive state income tax like the one proposed by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, would look at cuts across city departments and wants to end special taxing districts in thriving areas like downtown in order to use the money for other priorities.

“It’s really important that we think about how we meet the challenge in terms of shared sacrifice,” she said in an interview.

Ms. Lightfoot, who also supports more progressive tax policies, said one thing the city can do to improve its finances is rein in the millions it spends each year on settlements, judgments and attorneys fees. She said the city must also do a better job about communicating its financial woes and needs to residents.

“We really have to demonstrate to the taxpayers that we’re not going to continue to treat them like an ATM machine with no limit,” she said.

The candidates’ last days of campaigning included a mayoral town hall hosted by radio station WBEZ on Friday night, neighborhood canvassing and other get-out-the-vote efforts.

—Heather Gillers contributed to this article.

Write to Erin Ailworth at" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(0, 149, 221); text-decoration-line: none;"> and Douglas Belkin at" target="_blank" style="color: rgb(0, 149, 221); text-decoration-line: none;">


Democrats wouldn't buy a clue if it was government subsidized.

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