- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot learned the hard way that crime does not pay after voters gave her the boot, sending a clear message that they are sick and tired of elected leaders who fail to keep them safe or improve the standard of living in their neighborhoods.

Ms. Lightfoot is the first sitting Chicago mayor to lose reelection since 1989 and is the latest casualty of a raging debate over the pandemic-era surge in violence that pits the defund-the-police sympathizers against the tough-on-crime crowd.

Chicago voters were blunt in their assessment of Ms. Lightfoot’s tenure.

Chris Trott, a 39-year-old independent-leaning Democrat, said he backed Ms. Lightfoot four years ago but could not vote for her again because she seemed more interested in knocking heads with police than working with them.

“This crime situation is not tenable,” said Mr. Trott, describing Ms. Lightfoot’s loss as a warning sign for Democrats outside the state. “You have to get tough on crime, or you have to leave.”

A sense of lawlessness has gripped Chicago since the start of the pandemic, infuriating residents who love the nation’s third-largest city but in many cases have contemplated what once was unthinkable: moving out.

“There is no question it was the first, second and third issue in the race,” said Peter Giangreco, a Chicago-based Democratic Party strategist. “It was crime, crime and crime.”

The thorny issue has created headaches for elected leaders across the country. The debate has twisted politicians in knots and accentuated the divide between the more moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party.

Christopher Z. Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, said the mayor got caught in a national crime spike and then failed to allay people’s fears enough to retain their confidence in her leadership.

“Two years ago, it was all about ‘Let’s rethink policing. Let’s do this and that.’ Then there was a couple of carjackings and people were like, ‘[Forget] this; let’s get a machine gun,’” he said. “Fear is such a powerful motivator.”

It came to a head for Ms. Lightfoot on Tuesday when she pulled in 17% of the vote in the nine-candidate race.

Paul Vallas, a former public schools executive, and Brandon Johnson, a county board commissioner, advanced to an April 4 runoff after receiving 33.3% and 20.3% of the vote, respectively.

Ms. Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor making her first run for office when she jumped into the mayor’s race in 2019, began her term with high hopes after replacing her brash predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, who didn’t seek reelection.

She made history as the first Black woman to be elected mayor of Chicago after capturing a whopping 70% of the vote.

Ms. Lightfoot misread her margin of victory as an all-out mandate, according to analysts. They said she fought with almost everyone who challenged her approach, including the teachers union and law enforcement.

When rank-and-file members of the police department lost faith in the superintendent of police she brought in from outside the state, Ms. Lightfoot said the “cowards” were more interested in defending the status quo than serving the public.

Mr. Giangreco said a big takeaway from Ms. Lightfoot’s loss boils down to: “If you want to come in and manage the third-largest city, don’t be a lone wolf.”

Chicago voter Pat Guinane, a 42-year-old electrician from the city’s South Side, said Ms. Lightfoot failed to live up to expectations.

“I voted for Lori four years ago because I thought she was progressive and competent enough to tackle tough challenges,” Mr. Guinane said. “I saw little evidence of either.”

The election outcome is more evidence of the shifting discussion over public safety that a few years ago gave birth to the movement to redirect money away from police departments and toward social services in the name of stopping police brutality against Black residents.

That line of thinking has cooled off in a lot of places.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former city police captain, won the 2021 election after rejecting talk of defunding the police.

Mr. Adams has stood his ground. Last month, he railed against liberal City Council members calling for reducing the size and scope of the police force. He lamented that this small faction of the party has hijacked the liberal mantle.

The issue is also at the heart of an intense debate in Washington.

Congressional lawmakers, including Democrats, are trying to overturn the District of Columbia’s new criminal code. Congress has such authority as caretakers of the city government.

Critics say the new criminal code watered down criminal penalties, making it easier for criminals to thrive and harder to stop the carjackings, thefts and homicides that have rattled city residents.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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