Race to Watch: Chicago Mayor

Meet the Black women looking to change the face of Chicago leadership

Chicago is the third largest and one of the most diverse cities in the nation, but like many urban arenas, voters there rarely have had the opportunity to elect leadership that is representational of their city’s diversity.

Only two men of color (Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer, Jr.) have ever served as mayor, and no woman of color has held the city’s highest office. But all that could change on February 26 when Chicagoans go to the polls. On that day, voters will encounter a ballot with three Black women (Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle)—all considered leading contenders in a nonpartisan election to replace current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel. Should one of these women prevail, Chicago will join cities like Baltimore, MD; San Francisco; Charlotte, NC; Atlanta; New Orleans; Baton Rouge, LA; and Washington, DC, where voters have decided that choosing elected officials who walk at the intersection of race and gender can bring much-needed perspective, ingenuity, and fresh leadership to solving the problems that ail our communities.  

As little as five years ago, only one Black woman was serving as mayor of one of the United States’ 100 largest cities. Today, seven are holding one of these offices, showing the Black women’s leadership is becoming more recognized, sought after, and commonplace as their voices, votes, and participation grow as a vital part of American democracy. So, as Chicagoans prepare to head to the polls, we invite you to meet the Black women running for mayor of Chicago:

 

Amara Enyia

Amara Enyia serves as a national and international public policy consultant. She is a longtime community organizer, journalist, attorney, and consultant. Amara has spearheaded small and large-scale development projects, drafted and had legislation passed at the city and state levels, and pioneered new strategies that facilitate balanced growth and stronger communities across Chicago.  

Amara worked in the policy department of the Chicago mayor's office until the end of Mayor Richard M. Daley's term in May 2011. She went on to work as a community organizer on Chicago's West Side, and she served as the executive director of Austin Coming Together, an umbrella organization that promotes coordination and collaboration between community and nonprofit organizations in Chicago’s Austin area. She also founded ACE Municipal Partners, a consulting firm that works with municipal officials, and she serves as executive director for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

   

   

 

Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot is an experienced manager, advocate, and reform expert, and she has worked at the city and federal levels to make government more accountable and accessible. Lori is a former assistant United States attorney, former chief-of-staff and general counsel of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), former first deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services, and former president of the Chicago Police Board.  

Lori was appointed the chair of the Police Accountability Task Force (PATF) in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting. She most recently was a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown LLP.

Lori has served on the boards of numerous progressive and pro-choice organizations, including the Center for Wrongful Conviction. She is the first openly lesbian candidate in the history of Chicago mayoral elections. If she wins, Lori would be Chicago’s first gay mayor and first female mayor.  

   

   


Toni Preckwinkle

Elected in 2010, Toni Preckwinkle is the current Cook County board president.  She is the first woman elected to this position. She was previously a five-term alderman on the Chicago City Council, representing the city's 4th Ward.  Cook County is the second largest county in the nation, and as board president, Toni has overseen one of the nation's biggest public health and hospitals systems, one of the largest criminal justice systems in the country, and the largest forest preserve system in America.

Toni is a lifelong advocate for equity and equality. As county board president, she has expanded access to healthcare for 350,000 people, brought increased fairness to the criminal justice system, championed a regional economic development strategy, and expanded employment opportunities for the young people of Cook County.  

   

   

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