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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says her ‘head is held high’ after losing reelection bid

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and the first openly gay person to hold the position, has become the first incumbent in exactly 40 years to fail to secure re-election.

The Democrat, a former prosecutor elected in 2019 on a pledge to root out corruption, failed to secure sufficient support to reach a runoff scheduled for 4 April, with voters making clear their desire for change after Ms Lightfoot became dogged by her perceived failure to tackle crime in the Windy City.

Despite her loss, Ms Lightfoot hailed her achievements and said she is holding her head high in a concession speech.

Not since Chicago’s first female mayor, Jane Byrne, fell out of favour in 1983 has an incumbent failed to win a second term and her defeat means the contest now becomes a two-horse race between Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson.

Mr Vallas is a former superintendent of Chicago Public Schools running on a law-and-order platform with the support of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police while Mr Johnson is a Cook County commissioner endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union and is widely considered a progressive.

Mr Vallas, the only white candidate among a field of nine, secured around 35 per cent of first-round votes on Tuesday, followed by Mr Johnson with 20 per cent and Ms Lightfoot in third with 17 per cent.

“Obviously we didn’t win the election today, but I stand here with my head held high,” Ms Lightfoot said as she conceded defeat, hailing her record on public services and raising the minimum wage to $15.

“I am grateful that we took on the machine and entrenched forces that held this city back for too long.”

The victorious Mr Vallas said: “We will have a safe Chicago. We will make Chicago the safest city in America.”

While Ms Lightfoot won praise during her tenure for her handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, she also saw violent demonstrations erupt after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in summer 2020 and has been criticised by city police and union leaders over a hike in gun violence, carjackings and robberies, affecting both Chicago’s poorer neighbourhoods and wealthy downtown.

The city recorded its highest number of killings in a quarter of a century in 2021, 797, and more than 3,500 shootings, the latter figure more than 1,400 higher than in 2019, the year Ms Lightfoot took office.

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers a campaign speech (AP)
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot delivers a campaign speech (AP)

A damning recent poll of city residents found that 63 per cent said they did not feel safe on the streets of America’s third-largest metropolis.

Among conservatives gloating over the 56th mayor’s downfall on Tuesday night was Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who tweeted “crime doesn’t pay”, and Turning Point USA co-founder Charlie Kirk, who called her “the worst mayor in Chicago history”.

Also enjoying the moment was former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, now a Fox News presenter, evidently still smarting from Ms Lightfoot telling her in 2020, “Hey Karen, watch your mouth”, after she suggested the city might require federal assistance to address its crime wave.

Criminal defence attorney and Fox pundit Jonathan Turley meanwhile tweeted: “There is hope for my home city yet. Lori Lightfoot is out. The greatest potential improvement for the city since 1900 when the direction of the Chicago river was reversed.”