2023 Mayor's Race
Before serving as Chicago’s top executive, Mayor Lori Lightfoot was a corporate litigator and police prosecutor. Lightfoot is an Ohio native who got her bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan and her law degree at the University of Chicago Law School. After law school, Lightfoot first worked for the legal firm Mayer Brown for six years.
In 1996, Lightfoot became Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. In that role, Lightfoot led the investigation and prosecution of 15th Ward Ald. Virgil Jones as part of the Silver Shovel Investigation. In 2002, Lightfoot became Chief Administrator at the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Later, she rejoined Mayer Brown and served as outside counsel for Bank of America and worked on police-related cases.
In June 2015, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Lightfoot to head the nine-member Chicago Police Board, in the fallout over the Laquan McDonald case later that same year, Lightfoot was appointed to the Mayor’s Police Accountability Task Force. The task force eventually recommended doing away with the Independent Police Review Authority, appointing a new Deputy Inspector General to monitor the police department and creating a civilian-led oversight commission to set police department policy — the latter was accomplished during Lightfoot’s first term as mayor while the others were completed under Emanuel.
Lightfoot ran for mayor in a crowded 2019 field and made it to the runoff against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after finishing in first place with 18 percent of the vote in the first round. In the runoff, Lightfoot trounced Preckwinkle handily, winning in all 50 of the city’s wards.
As mayor, Lightfoot has often had an abrasive relationship with the City Council and has been criticized for how she handled the city’s response to racial justice protests in 2020, such as raising bridges to protect the Loop from property damage. Some of her legislative and administrative accomplishments, however, include passing ethics reforms such as a ban on “cross-lobbying,” the legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units and an overhaul the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance and the pandemic-era “Chi Biz Strong” business recovery package.
During her 2023 reelection effort, Lightfoot’s campaign was criticized for emailing Chicago Public Schools teachers to ask if students would volunteer for the campaign in exchange for class credit. While initially saying it was a common practice, Lightfoot’s campaign later called it inappropriate and said it would not happen again, with Lightfoot herself calling it a “well intentioned” “mistake.”
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6) is a South Side alderman who has represented parts of Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing and Englewood for three terms. His family has a history in Chicago politics. Sawyer’s father, Eugene Sawyer, served as mayor from 1987 to 1989 afte r former Mayor Harold Washington’s sudden death in office.
The 6th Ward alderman was first elected in a narrowly won election in 2011 with just 104 more votes than incumbent Freddrenna Lyle, a Richard M. Daley-loyalist.
In his campaign launch, Sawyer said crime is the biggest issue afflicting the city, positioning his experience working as a leader on the South Side as one of his major strengths in the race. Sawyer said he would fire Police Supt. David Brown if elected. On the City Council, Sawyer has chaired the Committee on Health and Human Relations since 2019 and is a member of both the Progressive Reform Caucus, a group which he helped found in 2013, and the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus, the latter of which he chaired from 2015 to 2019.
Sawyer has also promised to focus on economic development in the city, increasing access to mental health services for youth and improving schools, pledging to work alongside Chicago Public Schools leaders and the Chicago Teachers Union for solutions.
Sawyer has been a leader on police reform in the city and was a main proponent behind bringing civilian oversight to the police department. Sawyer and Ald. Harry Osterman (48) were original sponsors of an oversight proposal from the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA) that eventually got folded into what is now the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. Following the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Sawyer led the Black Caucus to call for then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s resignation. In 2020, amid the George Floyd protests, he spearheaded the creation of a commission to study reparations for Black Chicagoans, a group which later became a subcommittee of Health and Human Relations after pressure from Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Activist Ja’Mal Green is making another attempt to become top Chicago executive after he ran for mayor last cycle and failed to make the ballot. Businessman Willie Wilson, who ran in the 2019 field and has also filed for the 2023 election, got Green kicked off the ballot nearly four years ago after he challenged Green’s nominating petitions.
While Green endorsed Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the 2019 runoff election for mayor against Cook County Board Pres. Toni Preckwinkle, he’s clashed with her on issues throughout her term.
Among the most notable, Green tweeted false rumors in 2021 that the mayor was resigning though he later apologized. Soon after, however, Green crashed a news conference Lightfoot was holding to call out the mayor for allegedly “not backing his efforts to bring a youth center to Auburn Gresham” because of his involvement in the proposal, according to the Sun-Times.
Green would become the city’s youngest mayor if elected, according to WTTW. He told WTTW he was “uniquely qualified” to be mayor as someone who grew up on the South and West sides and had been kicked out of nine schools while he was growing up. “I was a troubled kid, before, but I turned my life around and became a successful businessman,” he told WTTW.
Following reporting from WBEZ and City Bureau in 2020 which showed JPMorgan Chase Bank had been significantly disproportionately investing in white neighborhoods over Black communities in Chicago, Green organized demonstrations against the bank. But his actions led to him being banned from Chase property and his account being closed over what the company deemed harassment.
Illinois state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) is one of several progressive candidates looking to unseat Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Recently reelected for a second full term in the state legislature, Buckner was first appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives in early 2019 and currently chairs the Illinois House Black Caucus.
During his campaign announcement, Buckner called for an approach to public safety that incorporates justice as much as safety. As a state legislator, Buckner has sponsored successful bills to crack down on organized retail crime and ban the sale and possession of ghost guns, or guns without serial numbers. He has also filed bills to ban no-knock warrants and establish a task force on missing and murdered Chicago women.
Buckner has also put forth legislation to make the City Colleges of Chicago Board elected rather than appointed and helped lead a successful Chicago Teachers Union-backed effort to chart out an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools. Buckner is also a strong supporter of the SAFE-T Act, which he helped pass.
He has also promised to have a better relationship with the City Council than Lightfoot, saying he’d engage each alderman in conversation and give them more independence. “I think we’ve got to spend more time talking about how we put forth real City Council reform to give the 50 alderpeople the ability to do their job,” Buckner . “They do not work for the mayor; they work with the mayor.”
Buckner is a graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and DePaul University’s College of Law. He previously worked for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and a New Orleans mayor. Buckner grew up in the Roseland and Washington Heights neighborhoods on the South Side.
Despite entering the race late, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is hoping his political track record makes him the choice among the city’s progressive and Latino voting base.
It’s not Garcia’s first run for the mayor’s seat, and he mulled the decision for months before jumping into the race, telling reporters in August he “loves” being a member of Congress, but also “care[s] deeply about the city.” Garcia unsuccessfully challenged former Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015, forcing the incumbent to a runoff but losing with only 43.7 percent of the vote. This time around, Garcia has said his campaign is focused on public safety, economic instability, investments in education, environmental sustainability and a concerted effort against the impacts of climate change.
Garcia served as a Chicago alderman in the 22nd Ward from 1986 to 1993 , during which he was an ally of former Mayor Harold Washington. He also served in the Illinois General Assembly and on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. In November, Garcia was reelected to a third term serving as a Democratic Congressman representing Illinois’ 4th District.
His proof of concept as a mayoral candidate? In just under three weeks, Garcia gathered reportedly more than 47,800 signatures to get on the mayoral ballot for the February election. Garcia submitted his petition signatures on the last day of candidate filing to ensure he’d appear last on the ballot.
Garcia is likely to compete for progressive votes against Ald. Sophia King (4), the chair of the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus, state Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago), who has backed several pieces of progressive legislation, and Cook County Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1).
Ald. Sophia King (4), one of several progressive challengers in this year’s mayor’s race, has said tackling violence and creating a better relationship between the City Council and mayor are two top priorities should she win the crowded election.
King was appointed to her aldermanic seat in 2016 by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel but has maintained her position with a wide margin in elections in 2017 and 2019. Prior to serving on the council, King worked in education as a chemistry teacher at Chicago’s Latin School and an administrator at Northwestern University and Chicago Public Schools. She also has been involved in several philanthropic organizations.
She has chaired the City Council Progressive Reform Caucus since 2020. King has used her prominent City Council role to push for the inclusion of a non-police emergency response program in Lightfoot’s 2021 “pandemic” budget. She was also a leading proponent of the Empowering Communities for Public Safety (ECPS) civilian police oversight ordinance, which created the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability. King was also one of five Black alderwomen to introduce the proposed “Anjanette Young Ordinance” to reform the police department’s home raid protocols. As an alderman, King has presided over the “Bronzeville Lakefront” mega-development plan, which aims to build a new mixed-use campus on the former Michael Reese Hospital site, and she has touted it as an example of how community-driven developments can be more popular.
Businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson is making his latest run for elected office, his third bid for Chicago mayor. In 2019, Wilson ran in the crowded mayoral election and finished in fourth place out of 14 candidates with 10.6 percent of the vote. Wilson finished in third place in his mayoral run in 2015, also with about 10.7 percent of the vote share.
His political history also includes campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 and a U.S. Senate run in 2020.
Wilson, the son of a Louisiana sharecropper, owned five McDonald’s franchises, started a medical supply company and produced the Emmy-winning national gospel TV show “Singsation.” According to a 2015 Sun-Times profile , “By [Wilson’s] own estimate, he gives away up to $1 million a year to churches and charities.” Wilson seeded his campaign this election cycle with $5 million of his own money.
Earlier this year, Wilson launched a series of gas and grocery giveaways, actions he said were aimed at mitigating the effects of high inflation on vulnerable populations. Though he endorsed Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the 2019 runoff, he has said Lightfoot hasn’t fostered any sort of professional relationship with him while in office.
Wilson has pointed to an increase in crime, unchecked mental health issues, lingering economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic as issues he’d be best suited to tackle as the city’s top executive. He supports lowering taxes, eliminating red light cameras and reforming parking meters.
Cook County Comm. Brandon Johnson (D-1) is seeking the progressive vote as he makes a bid in the crowded mayoral race. Johnson, a former social studies teacher and Chicago Teachers Union organizer, entered the mayor’s race in late October with the backing of the CTU already in the bag. His mayoral run has also gained endorsements from at least four other labor groups — Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, American Federation of Teachers and Illinois Federation of Teachers. An avowed advocate for working families, Johnson is running for mayor on a platform that includes “fully funded public schools, affordable housing, green jobs and access to mental health care,” according to his mayoral campaign announcement.
Johnson recently won a second term on the county board. After ousting incumbent Comm. Richard Boykin in the 2018 Democratic primary, Johnson’s legislative accomplishments have included the county’s Just Housing Ordinance, which barred landlords from refusing to rent to tenants based on certain criminal records and sought to end housing discrimination for people based on some prior convictions. Johnson’s legislative accomplishments also include a controversial 2020 resolution to shift funding away from Cook County Jail and toward health care, restorative justice and job creation to address root causes of crime, though the resolution was purely symbolic.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas is once again making a run to be Chicago’s top executive, and his tough-on-crime messaging appears to be resonating with voters. A recent poll conducted by pollster Jason McGrath from GBAO Strategies on behalf of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign showed Vallas’ appeal growing with respondents — in that recent poll he placed second in the horserace behind the incumbent mayor with 22 percent of the vote.
Vallas wants to rescind a policy which limits the ability of Chicago police to conduct foot pursuits, a policy passed following the death of Adam Toledo and he also supports boosting the force by bringing back retired officers to work on patrols and as detectives. In January Vallas nabbed the endorsement of Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police.
Vallas, also a former city budget director, ran for mayor in 2019 but placed ninth in the race. In the runoff, Vallas endorsed Lightfoot over Cook County Board Pres. Toni Preckwinkle. Vallas ran for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in 2002 and ran for Illinois lieutenant governor in 2014 alongside then-Gov. Pat Quinn, though neither run was successful.