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Politics

Chicago poised to make history with first black woman mayor

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Finally, a spot of good news for a beleaguered city that has long been known as a hotbed of racism and government-sanctioned segregation: the promise of Chicago's first black, female mayor.

In a dogpile of a mayoral race, 14 candidates fought it out to connect to voters who had long ago given into a nasty case of learned helplessness. The two top winners -- both black women -- beat out a rich scion of a Chicago political dynasty, a Latina state official, the city's former top cop and a bevy of other local luminaries.

The two finalists are former assistant U.S. attorney Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. And no matter which one of them wins the April 2 runoff Chicago's inauguration of a female African-American mayor will make a kind of history that none of the other top cities in America can claim.

It's a stunning turn of events in a town known for never wanting "nobody nobody sent."

And it's a relief, indicating that there are still strides people of color can hope for after a long, miserable Black History Month, which featured allegations that top government officials in Virginia wore blackface in college.

Closer to home, there was collective fear and then outrage (of many different kinds) when it appeared that "Empire" star Jussie Smollett had staged a hate crime in which he claimed he was attacked by assailants who yelled racist and homophobic slurs.

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Oh, and then there's the cop-on-minority-resident issue. This inspired a federal consent decree requiring the Chicago Police Department to undergo reforms to ensure people of color are treated humanely by the law enforcement officers who are sworn to protect them.

And I'm also sick of the perceptions that Chicago's murder rate is the highest in the nation -- it's not, and by some measures doesn't even crack the top 20.

So, yeah, the city could use good news in the form of a historic change of leadership from Rahm Emanuel, a big-interests-focused political operator. Either one of these two women could, in theory, address the neglect of the African-American community, which has caused what some experts consider to be a mass migration of black people out of the city and into the suburbs, neighboring Indiana or the Southern states where the original Great Migration began.

Though we've earned a high-five, at this specific moment in politics, it may be a toss-up whether the Preckwinkle-Lightfoot battle is more interesting because of the race angle or the gender one.

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