Mayor Lori Lightfoot argued that she has an obligation to voters to “identify and challenge” her opponents. That doesn’t mean he’s dragging his mayoral campaign through the mud.
Whatever you call it, the strategy kicked off this week when Lightfoot released a harsh but somewhat humorous ad in the US. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., to two accused political powerhouses: onetime cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried and former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The 30-second spot features Garcia with her head on a podium and both arms waving in the air, asking, “What do we really know about Chuy Garcia?”
Enter Bankman-Fried’s head bound in a suit with the indictment around his neck. The opening sign read “$200,000 from Sam Bankman-Fried.”
Madigan’s head is then seen on the other side of the podium, wearing a suit with a similar “Indictment” insignia around the neck, as the Garcia figure smiles, waves his arms and raises his inflated eyebrows in glee.
“Chuy secretly talked to this crypto scammer who stole his clients’ life money, then spent a fortune to re-elect Garcia. “Chuy has since cut deals to help himself with impeached Mike Madigan, even as the disgraced speaker faces a federal corruption investigation,” the insider said.
Bankman-Fried is the prodigy co-founder of FTX, which spent $151,420 on direct mail pieces introducing Garcia to voters in his newly redrawn congressional district.
At the time, Garcia was running unopposed in the Democratic primary in a safe district where his little-known Republican challenger had neither raised nor spent. Garcia is also a member of the US House Financial Services Committee, which regulates parts of the digital asset industry, which includes cryptocurrency.
But veteran political strategist Delmarie Cobb called it a “desperate” move for Lightfoot to go negative so early.
“This is the time when you have to talk about yourself and not about your opponent. You have to prove why you deserve a second term,” Cobb said.
Stephen Caliendo, a political science professor at North Central College, said Lightfoot’s out-of-the-gate strategy against Garcia told him his own internal polling showed Garcia “needs to have a higher disadvantage to have a good chance of winning.”
He called it “an acknowledgment that he poses a significant threat and that simply working with his record and doing what he wants to do in a second term is not going to be enough.”
Caliendo said the Lightfoot ad was “effective” in using “humor and puppetry” to cast doubt on Garcia’s ties to Madigan and Bankman-Fried. But this is also risky.
If Garcia is Lightfoot’s only target, or if he runs out of money before he can attack his other rivals, Caliendo risks clearing the way for another formidable challenger, such as former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.
Vallas hit the airwaves on Wednesday with his own six-figure take on violent crime.
“Crime is out of control and struggling leadership is failing us,” Wallace said in the announcement, speaking directly to the camera while standing outside City Hall, where former Mayor Richard M. Daley served as budget and revenue director for years.
The ad then shows Vallas walking through a parking lot with two plainclothes black police officers.
Vallas promises, among other things, to “hold department leadership accountable” and “put more police on our streets and public transportation.”
Not to be outdone, mayoral challenger Brandon Johnson launched a “seven-figure” ad buy pitching himself to Chicago voters.
“Brandon Johnson has a plan to make Chicago safer, grow Chicago businesses and create jobs. Brando’s plan will improve Chicago schools for all of our children. Brandon Johnson for mayor is better for Chicago,” he said.
The Garcia campaign said Lightfoot “resorted to more lies and desperate attacks” to avoid answering questions about his connections.
“Lori has declared ‘the sky’s the limit,’ and cut the ribbon on Sam Bankman-Fried’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago while tying anti-poverty funding to his shell companies,” Garcia’s campaign said in a statement.
“He can lie all he wants to turn around a losing campaign, but Chicagoans will hold him accountable for his failure to keep them safe as mayor.”
In an interview with WBBM-AM Radio’s Craig Dellimore on Wednesday, Lightfoot countered that it’s “fair” to question the past associations of a candidate whose “bosses” have declared him the mayoral candidate.
“We will also educate voters about those in this race who say they are one thing, claim to be one thing, but the record shows something very different,” the mayor said.
Lightfoot noted that Garcia’s past associations were “very troubling … not just recently, but going back some time,” adding that “those connections deserve further investigation.”