With the mayoral election nine months away, four candidates are in the race for sure, and two more look certain to join. This edition of Mayoral Power Rankings is covering only those who want the job. Given the weakness of this field, though, there are sure to be more.
1. Lori Lightfoot
“Lori Lightfoot,” a City Hall lobbyist recently told me, “may be the Emanuel Macron of Chicago.” He was referring to the French president who was recently re-elected, not because the voters loved him, but because they couldn’t stand his runoff opponent.
Lightfoot has, so far, been lucky in her lack of rivals. First, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan did not choose to run. Then, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, who represents the North Side progressives who put Lightfoot in office, decided he was too old for this sh*t.
“At age 53, I would have relished the opportunity to get Chicago back on track,” Quigley said in his demurral announcement. “If I’m being completely honest, at 63, I don’t think my family and I can make this kind of commitment.”
That led Neil Steinberg of the Sun-Times to suggest that we should get used to Lightfoot, because nobody capable of serving as mayor wants to do it.
“Each potential savior took a long look at our churning municipal disaster, then fled,” Steinberg wrote. He didn’t blame them: “Why would anybody want to be mayor of Chicago. It’s an impossible job.”
Is it possible that Lightfoot will succeed because of her failures? Has Chicago become so ungovernable under her leadership that no one wants to clean up the mess? Murders are at 25-year high. Her response to the killing of a 17-year-old in Millennium Park was to ban teens there after 6 p.m. (and across the city on weekends after 10 p.m.), which raised concerns of civil liberties and racial profiling. She did secure a casino for Chicago, which Richard J. Daley and Rahm Emanuel couldn’t do, but aldermen whose wards adjoin the River West site don’t want it there. Lightfoot is trying to speed the project through the City Council, but her prickly relationship with aldermen means there’s no guarantee they’ll go along with her timetable. When the casino finally opens, the city’s revenue strategy may be based on gambling and weed. As the Doobie Brothers once said, what were once vices are now habits. Get used to it.
2. Ray Lopez
We have written before that no alderman has been elected mayor since 1876. Can Lopez break that streak? Aldermen do have a bit more status than they did during the 20th Century. Then, they were Machine foot soldiers. Now, they’re more likely to act independently and entrepreneurially. That certainly describes Lopez, who has been Lightfoot’s most outspoken critic on the City Council, accusing her of failing to consult aldermen before bringing ordinances to the Council floor.
“It’s been a very tumultuous administration that she’s created, not building any bridges as a leader,” Lopez previously told us. “She promised the world to everyone in order to get support. When she became mayor, she didn’t know how to deliver. There are people who are committed to the idea of Lori Lightfoot, and are sticking with her, but in terms of the ability of Lori Lightfoot, many people are looking for a new option.”
If Lopez is that option, could he win a runoff just because Lightfoot is unpopular? Lopez is Latino and LGBTQ, which could help him build political bases in both those communities.
3. Paul Vallas
Vallas has promised to announce whether he’s running for mayor by Memorial Day. If he’s not running, why is he publicly criticizing Lightfoot for…everything? Most of the time, Vallas’s criticisms are based on the city’s violence and the mayor’s policing strategy. This week, though, he wrote an Op-ed for the Tribune accusing Lightfoot of rushing the casino deal through the City Council, waving the bloody shirt of “the infamous parking meter deal, in which a flawed proposal that falsely promised financial salvation was rammed through the City Council with little transparency and even less debate.” Vallas ranks a notch below Lopez here, because Lopez has won two elections, while Vallas is 0-for-3 (governor of Illinois, 2002; lieutenant governor of Illinois, 2014; mayor of Chicago, 2019).
4. Willie Wilson
Wilson gave away another million dollars worth of gasoline this month. Lightfoot, who has the entire city treasury at her disposal, is one-upping him by handing out $12.5 million in gasoline gift cards and CTA passes. (That barely got through the City Council, 26-23 — one of Lopez’s criticisms of her executive style.) Wilson finished fourth in the 2019 mayoral election, winning 10.6 percent of the vote, and 13 South and West side wards. Wilson has a higher floor than Vallas, who got 5.4 percent, but he also has a lower ceiling. It’s hard to see him building support outside the Black community.
5. Kam Buckner
The South Side state representative is running as a progressive alternative to Lightfoot. Buckner wants to replace the city’s neighborhood policing strategy with “community policing.”
“What I’m hearing from folks is that they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel seen or heard and they don’t think there is a plan for their safety,” Buckner told WTTW.
Chuy Garcia ran to the left of Rahm Emanuel. Bobby Rush ran to the left of Richard M. Daley. (Toni Preckwinkle also ran to the left of Lightfoot, although that’s not why she lost.) In Chicago, the left is not numerous enough to elect a mayor. We do have six socialist aldermen — but that accounts for only 12 percent of the City Council. Lightfoot is already attacking Buckner for his leftism: he’s “the choice of the [Chicago Teachers Union]. God bless him.”
A bigger problem for Buckner: he has twice been arrested or driving under the influence, most recently in 2019.
6. DJ Doran
Doran is not as exciting a candidate as his name makes him sound. He is not a disc jockey. He is a gray-haired LGBTQ businessman who moved to Chicago from the Bay Area in 2009. Doran is running for mayor because in that time, he and his husband “have seen crime skyrocket, the rising cost of living and politician after politician indicted, arrested and imprisoned. Many of our friends have moved out of the city, citing crime, unreasonably high property taxes and a lack of positive direction from the politicians.”
As a political outsider, Doran doesn’t have much of a base. His campaign Twitter account, @doran4mayor, has 12 followers (including this writer).