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Chicago voters resoundingly rejected Mayor Lori Lightfoot's reelection bid

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Chicago's mayor, Lori Lightfoot, lost her bid for reelection yesterday. She was the city's first Black woman mayor, its first openly gay mayor. And she swept when she won four years ago. Now the top two candidates head to a runoff election. And Lightfoot isn't one of them. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Tessa Weinberg reports.

TESSA WEINBERG, BYLINE: A tearful Lightfoot took to the stage Tuesday night, flanked by her wife, Amy, amid cheers of we love Lori.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) We love Lori. We love Lori. We love Lori.

WEINBERG: Four years ago, Lightfoot made history as the first Black woman and openly gay mayor to lead Chicago. But last night, the incumbent mayor came in third place, well short of the votes she needed in what was a crowded nine-way race. Her opponents slammed Lightfoot for rising crime and her tough negotiating style. But as she conceded, Lightfoot talked of her accomplishments. That included bolstering development in disinvested neighborhoods, getting guns off the streets and shaking up the status quo of city hall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LORI LIGHTFOOT: And you better believe I am grateful that we took on the machine and entrenched forces that held this city back for far too long.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

WEINBERG: Now the city faces a stark choice between the top two vote-getters, who will square off in a runoff election. Paul Vallas took the lead Tuesday night. He's the former CEO of the city school district. And he's drawn the support of the city's business community. Like most cities, Chicago saw a spike in crime amid the pandemic. Vallas is endorsed by Chicago's police union and has focused his campaign almost exclusively on promises to make the city safer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL VALLAS: Public safety is the fundamental right of every American. It is a civil right.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

VALLAS: And it is the principle responsibility of government. And we will have a safe Chicago.

WEINBERG: Vallas will go head-to-head against Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner. He's aligned with the powerful Chicago Teachers Union and stands far to the left of Vallas' more conservative positions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRANDON JOHNSON: The challenges that are ahead of us, Chicago, we can defeat this structural inequality. We have built a multi-racial, multi-generational movement from one end of the city to the other end of the city. We can build a better, stronger, safer Chicago. And tonight is just the beginning.

WEINBERG: The runoff election is April 4.

For NPR News, I'm Tessa Weinberg in Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTYN HEYNE'S "FARO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tessa Weinberg