Greising: Tradition of Dirty Politics Slithers Into Mayoral Runoff Contest, but We've Come a Long Way Since 1983

Flyers that cropped up last weekend, featuring broadsides against mayoral finalist Lori Lightfoot’s sexuality, reflect the tradition of dirty politics in Chicago. But in comparison with the ugly race baiting that surfaced during Harold Washington's 1983 mayoral run, maybe we've come a long way.

Lori Lightfoot (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

Election flyers that appeared on the South Side last weekend, featuring bigoted broadsides against mayoral finalist Lori Lightfoot’s sexuality in an apparent attempt at making political gain, reflect a long and deplorable tradition: the dirty tricks of Chicago politics.

The flyer, which in part read, “The Gay Equality Act!!! It’s Our Turn,” was circulated near African-American churches, a clumsy attack relying on an over-the-top caricature to foster homophobic fear, in this case in religiously conservative voters who may be persuaded to reject the candidacy of Lightfoot, who is openly gay.

Lightfoot had a measured response ready: “There is no room for hate in Chicago,” she said. At first blush, her comment seemed a simple statement of principle. Look a little deeper, though, and it was a fair appraisal of political potency, too.

Historically, hate or at least strong dislike has been as central to Chicago politics as ward heelers and precinct captains. Politicians have pitted neighbor against neighbor, Irish against Italian, African-American against Hispanic, rich against poor, lakefront liberal against Northwest Side cop, for as long as people have gone to the polls.

Considering, though, how quickly last weekend’s hate-baiting flyer slithered into and out of the mayoral runoff contest between Lightfoot and opponent Toni Preckwinkle, it’s possible a modicum of progress has been made in Chicago politics.

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