CHICAGO - Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot filed her petitions to run for a second term on Monday as Chicago's election cycle enters a bare-knuckle period when candidates for local office try to knock each other off the ballot.
"With the filing today, one chapter in the campaign ends and another opens," she said after submitting a stack of nominating papers that, sitting on the Board of Elections table, almost reached her shoulders. Surrounded by supporters and Chicago first lady Amy Eshleman, Lightfoot quipped that her pile of more than 40,000 signatures "looks like enough to me" before expressing that the next focus is on telling voters "why the only rational choice is to return me to office."
She touted her record, asserting she's run the country's "most equitable" vaccine program, made progress toward transforming Chicago into the "safest big city in the nation" and protected "workers and workers' rights." She also tried to evoke the energy of her first campaign in 2019 as one of insurgency and change - though this time she now runs as the incumbent.
"What's on the ballot is, do we return to the status quo that left huge swaths of our city of our residents out of the equation, out of the future of Chicago? Or do we keep forging ahead on the path that we've been on?" Lightfoot said. "And the path that we've been on, folks, unapologetically, it's about equity. It's about inclusion. It's about making sure that no part of our city is forgotten, that every part gets resources and gets dealt in to the prosperity of our city."
Chicago's nominating petition process is one of the most prominent holdovers of the old-school political machine. To run for mayor, a candidate must submit 12,500 signatures from voters, which can be disqualified on narrow technical grounds. So far, six candidates have submitted signatures to run for mayor: Ald. Sophia King, activist Ja'Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, businessman Willie Wilson and state Rep. Kam Buckner.
Besides Lightfoot, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García, a later entry to the race as an announced candidate, are expected to join them on Monday.
Lightfoot's decision not to file on the first day drew scorn from rivals, who said it reflects organizational challenges as the mayor fights an uphill battle to win reelection. But Lightfoot has shrugged off the criticism.
She also went against conventional wisdom Monday by submitting her petitions first thing on the last day of filing rather than at the end of the day. That means she's also forgoing the chance to be last on the ballot, which is often preferred if a candidate doesn't appear first.
The incumbent mayor said her lack of interest in playing that game was because she isn't worried about name recognition - and because "I actually got a city to run as well."
"The position on the ballot is if you are an unknown, and people don't know you. They know who I am," Lightfoot said, to which a supporter added to reporters, "You better listen."
The coalition of supporters flanking Lightfoot included the colorfully dressed activist Wallace "Gator" Bradley, a pardoned ex-gang enforcer who has been a frequent presence at Chicago City Hall, and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a longtime member of the city's Black political establishment who recently fended off a progressive primary challenger to win a 14th term in Congress.
Once all the signatures are filed at the end of the day Monday, candidates will have until Dec. 5 to challenge their rivals' signatures and get them kicked off the ballot.
In the 2019 election for mayor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle - who ultimately lost to Lightfoot in a runoff - succeeded in getting former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown kicked off the ballot. That year, Green also withdrew while facing a stiff challenge from Wilson.
Election lawyers often encourage candidates to collect roughly three times the minimum number of signatures because challengers can use charges of forgery, fraud and more minor technicalities to invalidate signatures and knock opponents out of the race. Lightfoot on Monday said she amassed more than 40,000 signatures, more than three times the threshold.
Election day is Feb. 28 with a runoff scheduled for April 4 if no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
The six candidates who filed first thing on Nov. 21 will be in a lottery to determine who's first on the ballot.
In closing remarks before walking out the elections board room, Lightfoot sought to warn the media that though incumbents like her face a "tough environment," her candidacy is not to be counted out.
"I know how to build coalitions. I know how to bring people together," Lightfoot said. "Every single time there's been a challenge and you all are speculating, 'She can't get it done because of this, that and the other and people don't like her personality and whatnot,' we deliver, every single time. So print that."