• Alex Nitkin
    JUN 07, 2022

    Lightfoot refashions criticism in reelection campaign announcement: ‘I take it personally for our city’

    A still from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s reelection campaign announcement video. [YouTube/Lightfoot for Chicago]

    Mayor Lori Lightfoot put an end to months of questions and speculation on Tuesday with a nearly three-minute ad confirming the news Chicagoans have long suspected: she’s running.

    The splashy 155-second campaign video plows head-first into the mayor’s notoriously brash temperament and habit of making enemies in government — qualities some of her opponents have already seized upon — and wielded them as part of her own argument for why she deserves another four years in power.

    “They say I’m tough,” Lightfoot says via voiceover above a din of TV reporter chatter as the camera swoops in on her. “They say I get angry. They say sometimes, I take things personally. You know what I say? They’re absolutely right."

    The announcement comes less than a week after Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), typically an ally of the mayor’s in the City Council, became the fifth candidate to announce a challenge against Lightfoot by arguing that the she “doesn’t play well in the sandbox with others.”

    Related: Sawyer's 'different style,' grassroots record distinguish him from Lightfoot, he says in campaign launch

    But the mayor makes the case in her long-awaited campaign launch that her aggressive style is an asset, not a hindrance, to her governing style.

    “When we fight for change, confront a global pandemic, work to keep kids in school, take on guns and gangs, systemic inequality and political corruption only to have powerful forces try and stop progress for Chicago — of course I take it personally, for our city,” she says. “Change doesn’t happen without a fight. It’s hard. It takes time. And, I’ll be the first to admit I’m just not the most patient person.”

    “I’m only human, and I guess sometimes it shows,” the mayor adds. “But just because some may not always like my delivery doesn’t mean we’re not delivering.”

    Lightfoot’s predecessor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also faced heat during his 2015 reelection campaign for his brash and combative style. That incumbent similarly tried to spin the criticism into a positive in his famous March 2015 “fuzzy sweater” ad in which he spoke softly to viewers from his Ravenswood living room.

    “I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen. I own that,” Emanuel said in the spot. “But when it comes to fighting for Chicago and Chicago’s future, no one’s going to fight harder.”

    Emanuel rode to a modest reelection victory in the April runoff with about 56 percent of the vote.

    However, the previous mayor was also able to lean on a thick political rolodex and notorious fundraising prowess — two benefits that may not come through as powerfully for Lightfoot.

    The mayor has been fastidiously building up her campaign war chest, reporting more than $1.7 million on hand in her Lightfoot for Chicago committee at the end of March and following up with tens of thousands of dollars in large donations from the likes of Abigail Disney, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and retired NBA star Chris Bosh. Her affiliated Light PAC reported $188,557 on hand on March 31, with $18,000 in large donations reported since.

    But she’s unlikely to match the record of Emanuel, wh declared nearly $7.4 million on hand on March 31, 2014 and immediately thereafter padded his account with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from business and finance executives from across the country.

    “Look, I get it. I don’t look or sound like any other mayor we’ve ever had before, and I’ve had to fight to get a seat at the table,” Lightfoot says toward the end of her campaign ad released Tuesday. “And, like so many in our city, I’ve had to fight to have my voice heard. That’s why I’ll never back down from fighting every day to turn your voice into action.”

    Like many incumbents running this year, including Gov. JB Pritzker, Lightfoot’s ad highlights her response to the early COVID-19 pandemic, including by playing a soundbite on a 2020 poll that gave her “high marks” on her handling of the virus response. Other voiceover snippets reference the Lightfoot administration’s Invest South/West initiative, its December 2021 announcement of federally backed tax credits for 24 housing developments, its $3.7 billion infrastructure plan and its “strong stand in support of police.”

    Polling indicates she faces an uphill climb to a second term. Chicago Index surveys have consistently found public support for the mayor below 20 percent, and Lightfoot has fared little better in more mainstream polling.

    Related: Chicagoans remain in a sour mood on city leadership as safety concerns soften, Chicago Index survey finds 

    Sawyer, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), businessman Willie Wilson, Rep. Kam Buckner (D-Chicago) and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas have all announced bids for the mayor’s chair in next year’s election. They have all raised a steady drumbeat of criticism over the city’s historically high rates of violent crime and have vowed to fire Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown upon taking office.

    Lightfoot has tried to deflect the heat by pointing to the “whole of government approach” employed by the city’s Community Safety Coordination Center and by pointing to a modest decline in shootings and murders below 2021, when violent crime hit its highest point since the 1990s. She has also tried to shift the blame on the Cook County court system, much to the chagrin of county Chief Judge Timothy Evans and President Toni Preckwinkle.

    Lightfoot plans to hold a private fundraising event Tuesday evening before spending all day on the campaign trail Wednesday with kick-off events in Ashburn, Grand Crossing, Little Village, Garfield Park and Northalsted.

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