It’s on. Tuesday, candidates in February’s citywide elections will begin gathering signatures. A herd of mayoral hopefuls will scramble to collect valid signatures from 12,500 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is facing eight opponents in her reelection bid, and likely more in the wings. The coming months will separate the poseurs from the players.
If no candidate gets more than 50% of the February vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff. Given her popularity ratings, Lightfoot may not win outright, but she is well-positioned to make the runoff.
Lightfoot is a powerful incumbent. She will raise millions of dollars for her war chest. She enjoys a national profile. In 2019, she won every ward in her first election.
Who will be the rare, blue lobster to emerge with Lightfoot in the runoff?
You can’t beat somebody with nobody. If there is a somebody of the moment, that rare, blue lobster could be Ald. Sophia King, 4th.
“I love this city. We need a Chicago that’s safer and stronger,” the two-term, alderman King declared Aug. 10 in her announcement video. “Let’s put an end to the false choices because we can have safety and justice. Compassion and accountability. We can revitalize neighborhoods and renew downtown. We can educate our young people. We can build our city and build equity. I am running for mayor because we need more collaboration, not more confrontation, and we can go further together.”
King is the third alderman to announce a run, along with Ray Lopez, 15th, and Roderick Sawyer, 6th. Others in the race include former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, South Side state Rep. Kam Buckner, community activist Ja’Mal Green, and Chicago police Officer Frederick Collins.
King could be the blue lobster that lands the big fish.
In 2016, former Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed the community activist and schools’ administrator to fill an aldermanic vacancy. King was elected to the seat in 2017 and again in 2019.
Her racially diverse ward, which stretches along the south lakefront from Hyde Park to downtown, is populated by academic and professional elites, working-class families and a bounty of reliably voting senior citizens.
As alderman, King may be best known for prominence in the renaming game — to re-christen two city streets for famous Chicagoans: Lake Shore Drive for Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, the area’s first nonnative settler, and Congress Parkway for the anti-lynching activist and journalist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett.
King chairs the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus. To woo the left-of-center voters who are disenchanted with Lightfoot, King will tout her advocacy of causes such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage and equity in community development.
While King has collaborated with the mayor on some issues, she has crossed swords with her on others.
King has advocated for several public safety initiatives, including an ordinance that mandates community police oversight and a measure that reform the way police raids are conducted.
Meanwhile, “policy disputes in 2021 snarled King’s relationship with the Lightfoot administration and other aldermen, including a zoning restriction King proposed on ‘home museums’ that kicked up a backlash from some colleagues,” The Daily Line reports.
King also fought Lightfoot to keeping Mercy Hospital open.
“The alderwoman argued that the mayor’s administration overstepped its legal authority by reshuffling a new hospital owner’s legal public commitments. Lightfoot hit back, saying King would rather have let the hospital close.”
So far, King is the only female to challenge Lightfoot, Chicago’s first Black female and openly LGBTQ mayor.
Earlier this year, Lightfoot, noting that her growing opposition were all men, remarked, “another day, another man who thinks he can do this job better than me.”
King took her dare.
King’s other political plums include her friendship with former President Barack Obama, who has previously endorsed her for alderman. Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board President, and a former 4th Ward alderman herself, has supported and campaigned for King.
Preckwinkle lost to Lightfoot in the bitter 2019 mayoral runoff. Since then, the two have a famously chilly, if not downright frozen, relationship.
In 2019, Black women — Lightfoot and Preckwinkle — were the top contenders in the 14-person race.
This time, those Black women could be Lightfoot and King, with Preckwinkle’s helping hand. Preckwinkle runs the Cook County Democratic Party and could engineer a party endorsement for King, a coveted prize that brings campaign cash and political resources.
As the mayoral contretemps progress, I will be watching one key barometer — my mother.
Gwen Washington is an avid Lightfoot fan. She is politically engaged and a very tough sell. She has lived in the 4th Ward for decades. Seniors like Mama care deeply about the basic housekeeping duties that can make or break an alderman.
When she ran for alderman, King knocked on my mother’s door to ask for her vote. Last year around the holidays, Mama tells me, the aldermanic office arranged a free turkey handout at her building.
Mama remains unimpressed. Throughout the pandemic she complained that King’s aldermanic office was frequently closed and information about the ward’s activities and operations was hard to come by, Mama said.
“Really? Who is she to run for mayor?” she asked me the other day.
We will find out.