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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.

chicago, first woman mayor
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.

chicago, first woman mayor
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)

Next Story

Student Project into Space, NASA Comes Up With Chicago Planetarium

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases, Pixabay

 

College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff.

“Like, up there nerdy.”

“Way up there nerdy,” she says. “All the way up into space.”

Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals.

“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works.

FILE - Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago.
Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago. VOA

Coding ThinSat

Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra.

“We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.”

“This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle.

“What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.”

As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.”

Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal.

“Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.”

Rocket carries project into space

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more.

“A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.”

Daughter of immigrants

It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth.

“I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said.

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Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space.

She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all.

“It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said. (VOA)