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Lightfoot’s Coalition Was Unthinkable Until Now

The mayoral frontrunner has support from lakefront liberals and law-and-order voters — blocs that traditionally hold each other in disdain.

Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune

So Jerry Joyce, Mancow Muller, and Lori Lightfoot walk into a bar.

This isn’t the set up for a joke. The trio really were seen together at a Beverly bar after the South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with Lightfoot wearing a holiday-themed green fedora.

Joyce was a law-and-order candidate for mayor who won all the cop-and-firefighters wards on the Northwest and Southwest Sides. Mancow is a shock jock who poses as a right-wing populist and once gave away AK-47s at a car dealership he owns in Missouri.

Why was the progressive Lightfoot hanging out with a couple of good ole boys? Lightfoot is evidently so new to politics that she’ll take votes from anyone — which is why she’s getting votes from everyone.

In the primary, Lightfoot upended Chicago’s century-old tradition of tribal campaigning by winning most of her votes from white North Siders.

Now, she appears to be pulling off another unprecedented political maneuver in drawing support from two voting blocs that have traditionally held each other in disdain: liberals from the lakefront wards, and white ethnics from the neighborhoods on Chicago’s fringes. Or, to use Chicago political terminology, goo-goos and regulars.

How is she doing it? Liberals seem to like Lightfoot because she’s seen as independent of the detested machine. Conservatives like her because they believe that as a former president of the Police Board, she’ll be sympathetic to first responders.

Both factions dislike Lightfoot’s opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, for related reasons. As chair of the Cook County Democratic Party, and a former compadre of Ed Burke and Joe Berrios, Preckwinkle is seen as the personification of machine politics. Meanwhile, the law-and-order crowd is suspicious of Preckwinkle for nurturing Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who is viewed as a cop hater.

In a single day last week, Lightfoot crossed that previously unbridgeable gap. First, she won the endorsement of Our Revolution, a left-of-center organization that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. The group’s 12,000 members gave Lightfoot 59 percent of their vote in an e-mail survey, to 26 percent for Preckwinkle. The endorsement was delivered by Clem Balanoff, whose history in progressive politics goes back to the 1980s, when Harold Washington appointed him head of 10th Ward Streets and Sanitation to irritate his arch enemy, Ed Vrdolyak. 

“One of the most important causes Our Revolution Chicago has taken up is to fix the broken property tax assessment system,” Balanoff said during a press conference at City Hall. “It was administered by Joe Berrios and his top defender, Toni Preckwinkle. It took from people of color, the working poor, and gave big tax breaks to the very rich.” Balanoff, a proponent of campaign finance reform, also criticized Preckwinkle for not supporting a small donor-matching grant ordinance brought before the county board by Chuy Garcia.

Later that day, Lightfoot won the endorsement of Ald. Matt O’Shea, whose 19th Ward includes Beverly and Mount Greenwood, the quintessential Irish city-worker neighborhoods.

“I love her strength in attacking this corruption issue we have,” O’Shea told the Sun-Times. “I like her experience as a former federal prosecutor … I talked to many people in law enforcement — at the federal and local level — who’ve had working relationships with her going back many years who have told me that’s who Lori is.”

Lightfoot also has the support of Northwest side aldermen Nick Sposato and Anthony Napolitano, former firefighters with Chicago accents thicker than Italian beef sandwiches. During last week’s vote on the controversial Police and Fire Training Academy (“cop academy,” as activists have dubbed it), they both held up triumphant placards as they called out “aye.”

(During those proceedings, Sposato called Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a cop academy opponent and Preckwinkle supporter, “a pile of shit.” Preckwinkle’s campaign sent out an email asking, “Is [Lightfoot] ever going to condemn these statements? Is she ever going to reject the support of Sposato? She hasn’t so far.”)

Coalition building is one of the basic skills of politics, and Lightfoot appears ready to be swept into the mayor’s office by a bloc that would’ve been unimaginable until now. Ald. Paddy Bauler, who famously declared Chicago unready for reform in 1939, is buried in St. Boniface Cemetery. If you pass by his grave, tell him it just might be time.

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