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Chicago Appoints its First Black Woman Mayor

Lightfoot, who will also become the first openly gay mayor of the third-largest U.S. city, appealed to voters who are tired of politics as usual

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Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer, was on track to be elected the first black female mayor of Chicago. VOA

Lori Lightfoot, a political newcomer, was on track to be elected the first black female mayor of Chicago on Tuesday, with a massive lead over opponent Toni Preckwinkle in a city struggling with crime and poor finances.

With more than half of precincts counted, former president of independent civilian body the Chicago Police Board, Lightfoot, 56, had 74 percent of votes while Preckwinkle, 72, a longtime local politician had 26 percent in a runoff to become Chicago’s 56th mayor.

Lightfoot, who will also become the first openly gay mayor of the third-largest U.S. city, appealed to voters who are tired of politics as usual. She has never held political office, while Preckwinkle was a city councilwoman for almost 20 years before becoming Cook County board president in 2010.

“I voted for Lori Lightfoot … I think the other one, Preckwinkle, is in politics too long. You know, too much of a machine,” said John Reyes, 71, speaking outside a polling place in the Albany Park neighborhood.

The runoff between two African-American women was a rarity in the United States, where only 6 percent of mayors in the 200 U.S. largest cities are women of color, according to the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle earned spots on the ballot after they garnered the most votes among 14 candidates in a February election. The winner will replace Rahm Emanuel, who is not seeking a third term.

“Clearly, Lori offers us the best chance for real change,” said Virginia McGathey, 60, who has been a broker at the world’s largest agricultural exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade, for more than 35 years. “She (Lightfoot) has an opportunity to make enormous strides for women, for women of color, for women of all different backgrounds.”

Lightfoot will inherit massive fiscal challenges including a $28 billion unfunded liability for the city’s four retirement systems and escalating annual pension contributions that will top $2 billion in 2023.

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Voters fill out their ballot at a polling place during a runoff election for mayoral candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, Illinois, April 2, 2019. VOA

A projected $252 million budget deficit for fiscal 2020, which begins Jan. 1, awaits the new mayor, along with expired or expiring labor contracts with police, firefighter and public school teacher unions.

Neither candidate disclosed detailed plans to shore up the city’s sagging finances.

In debates, Lightfoot, a former corporate lawyer, said the city has to demonstrate it can be a “better fiscal steward” before it seeks more revenue.

Web designer Mary Farrelly, 30, in the city’s north side said she did not like that Preckwinkle imposed a soda tax on Cook County in 2017 and supported Lightfoot.

“I feel like she (Lightfoot) has a better take on not taxing us,” Farrelly said while walking her dog.

Lightfoot will take over a city ranked as one of the nation’s most violent. Homicides in Chicago declined by more than a quarter in 2018 from its five-year high of 769 in 2016.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle leaves a polling place after voting during a runoff election for mayor against Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, Illinois, April 2, 2019. VOA

But less than one out of five murders was solved in Chicago in the first half of 2018, according to local media.

The next mayor will be expected to deliver on a campaign promise to reform the police department currently under court-appointed oversight to address a 2017 Justice Department finding of widespread excessive force and racial bias by officers.

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On day one, she will also have to find a way to ease tension between the police department and state’s attorney after prosecutors decided to drop charges against actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hate crime attack. (VOA)

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2019 Chicago Auto Show: Huge Demand of Trucks and SUVs, Sedans Take Back Seat

“We’re not abandoning the car market completely,” Majuros assured. “We’re right-sizing our portfolio".

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Sedans Take Backseat to SUV's, Trucks at 2019 Chicago Auto Show. VOA

It’s billed as North America’s largest and longest-running auto show, now in its 111th year. The 2019 Chicago Auto Show offers a lineup of nearly 1,000 vehicles occupying nearly 1 million-square-feet of space at the McCormick Place Convention Center.

A special preview for members of the media at the annual show is a chance for manufacturers to show off their latest and greatest products about to enter the market.

What is notable about this year’s event is what some manufacturers aren’t showing off — new sedans.

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Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of global operations of the Americas for Ford Motor Company, speaks during the media preview of the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, Feb. 7, 2019, in Chicago. VOA

Customers want trucks, SUVs

“Over 10 years, there has been a consistent movement of customers in the United States and around the world, but even more so in the United States, moving away from sedans and more traditional passenger sedans into more utility vehicles,” said Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford Motor Co.’s Global Operations.

“Nearly 7 out of 10 vehicles sold today are trucks or SUVs in the U.S. market. They like the ride high, the seating height, the utility of the vehicle. And now, we can give them the fuel efficiency that they used to get out of sedans. So, that’s where customers are going.”

All reasons Ford is going the extra mile and planning to invest $1 billion to upgrade its Chicago manufacturing facility, which produces the popular Explorer Sport Utility Vehicle, or SUV — also used as a law enforcement vehicle — and the new Lincoln Mariner luxury SUV.

But while Ford is offering new options for consumers, it is also discontinuing models of the Focus, Fiesta and Fusion cars, ending production later this year.

“We’ve been planning our business to incorporate the expectation that some of those cars will go away,” Hinrichs said. “Then bring in new products to enter the market to supplement some of that volume that was lost so that we can keep our plants full.”

The new family car

“We have the debate a lot about is the compact SUV the new family sedan, and in many instances, you can say yes,” said Steve Majuros, marketing director for cars and crossovers for the General Motors Chevrolet brand. He introduced two new trucks in Chevy’s popular Silverado lineup to media at the auto show.

The prominence, and choices, of SUVs, crossovers and trucks in GM’s current lineup promoted at the auto show stands in contrast to its perennial attraction in recent years, the Chevrolet Volt. Even though it is the top-selling electric plug-in vehicle of all time, sagging sales have led GM to cease production in March.

“Volt was a great product for us,” said Majuros. “(It) had a great run — two generations. But what has happened is as the ability to produce pure electric and the kind of cost configuration and range of what people are looking for, Volt had its time, but was a great stepping stone for us to lead us to the future, which was pure electrification.”

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A long row of unsold 2019 Cruze sedans sits at a Chevrolet dealership in Littleton, Colo., Feb. 3, 2019. VOA

Joining the Volt on the chopping block is the Cruze, a compact car manufactured at GM’s Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio. Chevrolet does plan to keep making the Malibu midsize sedan and the Bolt all-electric vehicle, among a few other options.

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“We’re not abandoning the car market completely,” Majuros assured. “We’re right-sizing our portfolio. We’re reacting to what the consumers are looking for.”

What they are looking for are trucks and SUVs, which made up about 70 percent of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018, a trend expected to continue this year. (VOA)