Who is Lori Lightfoot? Victory Speech Gives Emotional Glimpse at Her Family, Background

Chicago's new mayor-elect had never run for political office before, enjoying a relatively low profile in comparison to some of her eventual opponents

When she entered the race in May 2018, Chicago's new Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot was a long shot, even by her own admission - and relatively unknown in comparison to some of her opponents. 

Now, Lightfoot has a low profile no longer. After a resounding victory in which she swept all 50 wards, Lightfoot will be sworn into office in May as Chicago's first black female mayor and the city's first openly-LGBTQ mayor as well, an historic election by several measures in the country's third-largest city.

A native of Massillon, Ohio, Lightfoot will also be the first elected mayor since Anton Cermak, in office in the 1930s, who was not born in Chicago. Lightfoot touched on her upbringing in her victory speech Tuesday night, giving a brief but emotional glimpse into the people and experiences she said made her who she is today.

"My parents didn't have it easy," Lightfoot said. "My dad got really sick and slipped into a coma for a year, a whole year, and woke up without the ability to hear anything."

"He lived the rest of his life with his disability," she continued. "He worked as a barber and a janitor and put up with the racism in our small, segregated steel town."

Lightfoot had previously said that her father's disability and its impact on her family "profoundly shaped" her views on social justice.

"My mom worked low-wage jobs in mental hospitals and nursing homes. My parents didn't have much money but they had their dignity and their dreams. Dreams for their children. Dreams for me," Lightfoot said.

"They taught me the value of honesty, decency, hard work and education and they gave me faith - the faith that put me where I am today."

"My mom is watching this tonight, with more than a little pride in her little girl," she added. After Lightfoot finished first in the Feb. 26 election to make the runoff, she told reporters that her 90-year-old mother had called her the next morning to share her hope that her daughter would open doors for others.

"She said, and I agree, I hope that my candidacy demonstrates to young people, particularly young people of color who look like me, maybe growing up in circumstances like me, that with hard work, anything is possible," Lightfoot said the morning after the February election.

As for her father, Lightfoot grew emotional Tuesday night.

"My dad isn't with us anymore, but Dad," she said, pausing seemingly to collect herself, voice wavering ever so slightly. "Wherever you are, look at your daughter. And look at everyone here. And look at our great city."

"Thank you, Dad. Your sacrifices have been born anew. We made it," Lightfoot continued.

Lightfoot left Ohio to complete her undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, then after two years working as a legislative aide in Washington, D.C., earned a full ride to attend law school at the University of Chicago.

She's lived in Chicago since 1986, save for a one-year clerkship on the Michigan Supreme Court, and since she moved to the city she's been a federal prosecutor from 1996 to 2002, and held various roles in city government, including as chief of staff for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications in 2005.

Lightfoot is the former president of the Chicago Police Board, a position to which Emanuel appointed her in 2015, and which she resigned before launching her mayoral bid. Emanuel also tapped Lightfoot to chair the Police Accountability Task Force in 2016, in the wake of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald that rocked the city and sparked a U.S. Department of Justice investigation in the Chicago Police Department. Most recently, Lightfoot worked as a senior equity partner at Mayer Brown LLP.

Celebrating the new chapter in her career and for the city on Tuesday night, Lightfoot credited her wife and 11-year-old daughter - featured prominently in her light-hearted closing television ad - for her victory.

"I sure wouldn't have made it without my wife Amy and our daughter Vivian," she said, gazing at her family onstage as the crowd chanted her wife's name. "I want to thank you both for your endless inspiration, your support at the toughest times and your undying love. You are my all, my everything."

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