Identity rules: A report from reddening Chicago


Chicago’s first black woman and first openly gay mayor Lori Lightfoot

Fake-Progressive Identity Cloaking

Beyond the identity-politicized excitement of Chicago electing its first Black female chief executive and becoming the largest U.S. city to have a Black female mayor (and to have a gay mayor), there wasn’t all that much for a leftist to choose from between victor Lori Lightfoot and her opponent Toni Preckwinkle. Mayor-Elect Lightfoot is a longtime corporate lawyer, a partner in the venerable multinational Mayer- Brown firm, and a former federal prosecutor. She covered for the legendarily racist Chicago police (currently operating under a federal civil rights consent decree) in her role as the head of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force. She did the same on the Chicago Police Board under Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Chicago Tribune investigation of Lightfoot’s Mayer-Brown years found that “she has represented corporate clients accused of racial discrimination, as well as police and prosecutors accused of the kind of misconduct she has criticized as a candidate. Lightfoot also has made millions of dollars working at a firm whose attorneys have represented tobacco companies and other corporate clients accused of egregious wrongdoing.”

None of this stopped Lightfoot from branding herself as an outsider “progressive” seeking to clean up the city’s corrupt practices and deliver its forgotten people and neighborhoods from oppression and neglect.

“It’s hard,” Chicago native Matt Reichel wrote me, “not to be skeptical of a former federal prosecutor who spent most of her career siding with the cops in police misconduct cases until she recently decided to opportunistically rebrand herself a ‘reformer.’”

There’s a reason that white police officers voted for Lightfoot. “If someone had told me in the era of Richard J. Daley (when I moved to Chicago) that cop neighborhoods such as Mount Greenwood would vote overwhelmingly for an African American woman,” longtime Chicago activist Kingsley Clark writes, “I would have said: ‘What are you smoking, man!’ The word ‘progressive’ lost meaning with the Clintons and was buried deep in this mayoral election. Those Chicagoans who cling to that illusory concept are going to be mightily disappointed.”

Like with the silver-tongued neoliberal “from Chicago” (really from Honolulu and Harvard Law) Barack Obama? Obama must have used the word “progressive” at least a thousand times to describe himself on his path to the presidency between 2004 and 2009. We saw how that worked out.

The 44th president called to congratulate Lightfoot, one rich fake-progressive identity-cloaked corporatist talking to another.

A Neoliberal Machine Mayor-in-Waiting

Lightfoot’s victory is arguably another in a long line of nails in the coffin of the old Chicago machine.  Preckwinkle is a longstanding machine politician, the president of the Cook County Board and the head of the Cook County Democratic Party. She has been caught up in the campaign finance shenanigans of the legendarily corrupt 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke.  The Black female Preckwinkle was bidding to become the first politician to hold both the Chicago mayoralty and the top Cook County Democratic position since the original Chicago Mayor Daley – the last big city patronage boss Richard J. Daley (whose reign ran from 1955 through 1976).

But the old machine, based on the trade of city jobs for votes, died long ago.  The new machine under Mayors Richard M. Daley (1989-2011) and Rahm “Mayor 1%” Emanuel (2011-2019) has been based on neoliberal “pinstripe patronage” – the trading of city contracts, corporate privatization deals, tax-breaks, and taxpayer-funded development deals greased by regressive Tax Increment Financing (TIF) arrangements (rampant throughout the city). The “business community” got behind Lightfoot in the reasonable expectation that she will keep urban neoliberalism machine set on profit.

According to veteran Chicago left activist and author Joe Allen, “The fact that the leader of the Democratic Party and such an entrenched politician as Preckwinkle went down to historic defeat shows once again that the political establishment is under siege in Chicago and across the United States…But when it comes to all the key issues around police reform, gentrification, the schools,” Allen ads, Lightfoot “is our class enemy.”

What’s Officially “Historic” and What’s Not

Beyond the ideologically narrow contest between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle, the most interesting and genuinely progressive development in Chicago’s runoff election last Tuesday was that three self-described socialists – Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward), Rossanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (30th Ward), and Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) – defeated establishment aldermanic candidates. Lopez, Rodriguez-Sanchez, and Vasquez will join two other socialists – Dan La Spata (1st Ward) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) – in the Chicago City Council.

On election night last Tuesday, Chicago corporate media television news was agog over the “historic” mayoral victory of a gay Black female. It had nothing to say about Lightfoot’s conservative, corporate, and power-serving record or about the arguably more historic victories of self-declared socialists in the city council.

The Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday gave its full front page to a picture of Lightfoot with her fist raised above the giant-type headline “LORI-OUS: Lightfoot Trounces Preckwinkle in Historic Mayor’s Race, Winning All 50 Wards.”

“Lori Lightfoot,” the Sun-Times exulted in its lead story, “will become Chicago’s first openly gay mayor – and the first African-American woman ever to serve as chief executive – after cruising to a landslide victory that transcended the city’s tribal politics.” (“Landslide” was a bit of an overstatement given the near-historic low voter turnout – around 30 percent – for the Lightfoot-Preckwinkle contest, a reflection of the absence of significant ideological as well as racial and gender difference between the candidates.) Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell waxed eloquent on how “there’s no stopping the march of history…Tuesday’s election,” Mitchell elaborated:

“made Lightfoot not only the first Black woman to go to City Hall, but the first openly gay to have that honor. Chicago is now the largest city to elect an African-American woman mayor…Maybe it was all the tears black mothers shed on the streets of Chicago after a son or daughter was killed…Maybe it was their anguished cries against the brutality of a male-dominated Chicago Police Department that opened the door for this political revolt…Lightfoot….joins an elite club of seven other African American female mayors currently leading a major American city.”

Was Mitchell ignorant of Lightfoot’s record of siding (under white-mayoral appointment) with the city’s legendarily racist (as well as male-dominated) cops and against Black city residents?

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