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In a historic runoff, mayoral candidates Lightfoot, Preckwinkle could reshape Chicago

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The pro-development days of the Emanuel administration could be coming to a close

Scott Olson/Getty Images

After heading to the polls in near record-low numbers, Chicago voters whittled the crowded field of 14 mayoral candidates down to just two: former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. With no one securing the necessary 50 percent of votes, the top two candidates will head to a runoff election on April 2.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle bested apparent third-place finisher Bill Daley, an establishment candidate who was considered most closely aligned with the policies of outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel. The move could be a seismic shift in Emanuel’s pro-development stance which, critics say, has prioritized Chicago’s downtown and lakefront areas while leaving the rest of the city behind.

Both candidates support reforming Chicago’s controversial use of tax increment financing (TIF) to spur private developments. Their opposition comes at a time when City Hall is poised to approve two massive TIF districts to subsidize infrastructure for a pair of riverfront megaprojects known as Lincoln Yards and The 78.

Preckwinkle and Lightfoot have also been lukewarm on Emanuel’s plan to let Elon Musk’s Boring Company build a private high-speed express tunnel to O’Hare International Airport. Lightfoot has expressed doubts that the project could be completed without taxpayer money while Preckwinkle told the Tribune that she would put the proposed tunnel “on pause” and instead prioritize investments in existing transit such as Metra and the CTA.

Preckwinkle has come out in favor of lifting the state of Illinois’s ban on rent control and Lightfoot says she will take a critical look at aldermanic prerogative—the longstanding practice of giving aldermen near absolute control over zoning and development matters in their respective wards—as well as limiting conflicts of interest such as outside employment.

On the city council side of the ballot, Tuesday’s election saw a handful of longtime incumbents lose their seats to challengers. The list included 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno, and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena. While a number of ward races are headed to a runoff, Edward Burke easily won re-election in Chicago’s 14th Ward despite being at the center of an ongoing federal corruption investigation.

While the election of either Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle is guaranteed to be a historic moment for Chicago—a city poised to welcome its first female African-American mayor—the April 2 runoff will arguably be far more significant for its impact on the legacy of Emanuel.