Progressives Lori and Toni Just Missed a Golden Opportunity to End the Old Chicago Way

Chicago Civic Media
5 min readMar 2, 2019

by Steve Sewall ( updated 3/6/19)

For a brief shining moment on February 26, Chicago voters introduced a new era in Chicago politics. They voted to depose the age-old, money-driven, insider-serving Chicago Machine as embodied in Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty, a top-level Clinton and Obama confidant and far and away the preferred candidate (among a total of 14) of Chicago’s all-powerful business community.

So there the Machine lay, flat on its back, its ultimate fate awaiting only a compelling gesture of unity from the two candidates that had bested Daley at the polls. And this gesture was not unreasonable to expect inasmuch as candidates — Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle — were not only self-styled progressives but African-American women as well.

So what were the odds of that happening — and in Chicago of all places!

For these two women, putting the male-dominated Machine in its place would have been so simple. Instead of delivering the customary victory speeches to their supporters, Lori and Toni could have stood hand-in-hand in front of City Hall or the Chicago Bean to congratulate Chicago voters for breaking the grip of the closed political system that’s deprived the vast majority of Chicagoans of their right to an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives.

Because that’s what progressives are all about, no? Giving citizens stronger and better informed voices in creating and approving these life-altering decisions?

Hand in hand, Lori and Toni could then have pledged to work with each other and all Chicagoans to find solutions to Chicago’s multiple social and economic crises — solutions that will win the support of citizens and City Hall alike. They could even have invited the other candidates to join them in giving all Chicagoans a rare moment of citywide unity.

As for the coming April 2 election? What matters most, they could have said, is what’s best for Chicago, not Lori or Toni. We trust Chicago voters to choose wisely.

Of course nothing like this happened. It’s fantasy.

Had fantasy been reality, Chicagoans would have been dancing in the streets.

As things did play out, both candidates celebrated their victories by standing on separate El platforms deprecating each other’s progressive credentials.

How boring. How Machine-like. How unprogressive. How regressive.

And overnight it was back to the same-old, same-old Chicago Way. Next morning Chicagoans woke up to stories like this:

Back to the same-old, same-old. Spot ads & character attacks. Chicago Sun-Times, 3/2/19

Chicago politics had sunk back into the sewer of attack-ads and character assassinations that have alienated Chicagoans from politics for decades.

Lori and Toni had blown a golden opportunity. A chance to help create the kind of city they both say they want.

Do they really? Well, here are two questions for them. Questions that could be a litmus test for anyone who claims to be a progressive:

  • Will you say publicly what Chicagoans have known full well for decades: namely, that Machine politics is itself dependent on Big Money and TV attack ads for its survival? (To see why Chicago needs to come to terms the obvious, consider Hans Christian Anderson’s fable of the Emperor’s Clothes.)
  • Will you point out that Big Money and attack ads have deprived Chicago voters of their essential right, in a democracy, to an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives?

These questions, if unraised or unanswered, will find Chicagoans suffering through a profound and painful irony in the weeks leading to the April 2 election. Chicagoans witness two progressives tarring and feathering each as non-progressive. And these progressives will be acting like the squabbling, self-serving Machine politicians they decry.

That said, all is not lost. An axiom advanced by former divorce lawyer, Bill Ferguson, who has seen the damage done to families by bitter marital disputes, comes to mind:

It takes two people to fight. But only one to stop the fighting.

It takes just one of Chicago’s two bickering progressives, in other words, to heal Chicago by putting service to the public above service to self.

In closing, the real story about the February 26 elections has been largely ignored in Chicago’s mainstream media. It’s all about Chicago’s grassroots progressives and the decisive role they played, in ward after ward, in engineering the political sea change that swept over Chicago on February 26.

For a detailed account, check out this February 27 radio interview by Miles Kampf-Lassin, who shows how Chicago’s electoral “earthquake”, as he calls it, resulted largely from the work of grassroots Chicago progressives. (At 33:55 of this 47-minute interview, Kamph-Lassin gives a detailed “quick rundown” of the “monumental” aldermanic victories of progressive candidates.)

A near record-low voter turnout of 34% of unmotivated Chicagoans — citizens too disillusioned with city leaders, it’s said, to go to the polls — also worked in favor of the motivated progressives.

So now, as of March 6, we’re weathering a grand and dispiriting irony. One progressive candidate, in early polling, has a commanding over the other. It remains to be seen what this lead says about the wisdom of Chicago voters and the people of Chicago. When I think of the nonsense swirling around Chicago politics and the city’s political media, it is in the wisdom of Chicagoans, voting or not voting, that I place my trust.

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Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and Director of Chicago Civic Media.



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