Was it a compliment, or a subtle message to voters? That’s the latest controversy in the Chicago mayoral runoff campaign.
When the candidates were asked to say something they admire about each other in last week’s NBC 5-Telemundo Chicago mayoral forum, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said what she admires about opponent Lori Lightfoot is that she’s "open and honest about her LGBTQ orientation."
While receiving the endorsement of State Rep. Kelly Cassidy today, Lightfoot and the openly-gay state lawmaker questioned whether Preckwinkle was blowing a dog whistle by bringing attention to her sexuality.
"It almost doesn’t matter what the intent was, and we can take them at their word, but the effect was – I found out about it from folks who heard it in that way," Cassidy said.
At her own press conference, Preckwinkle said that her words were nothing but an expression of her admiration of Lightfoot for the reason she gave. She said she has "always been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community" and that she has LGBTQ people on her campaign and county staffs.
Preckwinkle said the comment was a compliment, but Lightfoot said her response was "an interesting choice given the range of choices she could have picked."
Preckwinkle said she and her staff did not prepare that answer ahead of time.
"That was not a prepared answer, it just occurred to me at the moment," Preckwinkle said. "It was clearly something I believe strongly."
But Lightfoot said that it should not have been a surprise to either candidate that a question like that would be coming.
"She’s got a lot of sophisticated people around her," Lightfoot said. "The question was coming, [she] knew it was coming – we both did. And she chose to say what she said."
Since the Feb. 26 election, it’s been a war of words. Preckwinkle went after Lightfoot the first day after the Feb. 26 election, releasing a TV ad that called Lightfoot’s record as a corporate lawyer into question. Lightfoot opted to run a positive ad, but has since released an ad attacking Preckwinkle for her connections to Chicago’s political machine.
With just weeks to go until the April 2 runoff election, there are going to be seven more debates and forums – plenty of time for to get a good look at both candidates’ policies and personalities.