MASSILLON — City resident Ann Lightfoot was surprised last year to learn her daughter was running for mayor of Chicago.
She found out about her daughter's plans secondhand through her son. Massillon native Lori Lightfoot, 56, announced her candidacy in May for the city of 3 million.
And history will be made on April 2. Regardless of who wins, Chicago will elect its first African-American female mayor.
"My baby girl running for mayor of Chicago?" the elder Lightfoot said of her youngest daughter. "It still scares me."
The race continues
Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle were the top two vote-getters from 14 candidates running in Tuesday's election. Because neither received more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held April 2.
Lightfoot, a 1980 Washington High School graduate, would become the city's first openly gay person to hold the office if elected.
She was ahead in the Tuesday election with more than 90,000 votes. Her opponent received more than 83,000.
Ann Lightfoot said the race is more meaningful because February is Black History Month. She hopes her daughter "has cracked the ceiling for many young women who feel 'I could never do that.' You can do what you set your mind to," she said.
The 90-year-old described her daughter as a hard worker who did well in high school academically.
The younger Lightfoot worked for the late Ralph Regula when he served as a congressman representing the 16th District. According to her election website, she graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and later earned a full scholarship to the University of Chicago Law School. She is a former assistant U.S. attorney and most recently worked as senior equity partner in the litigation and conflict resolution group at the Mayer Brown law firm.
The elder Lightfoot was following Chicago's election results via phone through another daughter, Angela Holdren, who lives in Georgia. Holdren was tracking results on her sister's Facebook page and relaying information to their mother.
"I am chewing nails; I'm a total nervous wreck," Lightfoot said late Tuesday afternoon. "She [Lori] was very calm, very serene when she called me this morning. ... I just tell her, 'Honey, do your very best. Once you've done your best you can't do anymore.'"
Throughout the more than 30 years Lori Lightfoot has lived in Chicago, she has learned the city differs greatly from her hometown.
She recalled walking to school with other kids in her Massillon neighborhood. The school system — Massillon City Schools — and the pride the residents feel for their community are the heart of the town, she said.
The sense of community sets Massillon apart from other cities, Lightfoot said. Strangers expressed a willingness and a desire to help people they had never met, she added.
“We have such a deep sense of community and pride in Massillon,” she said. “That has really been ingrained in me from my earliest days ... All of these things have factored into my vision for how I can transform Chicago.”
Lightfoot said she saw a "huge disparity," specifically in public education in Chicago, and felt compelled to be the voice of those who weren't being heard.
While politics has always interested Lightfoot, she never had aspirations to run for a position until she saw the “great need of so many people and neighborhoods across the city for a true champion and advocate."
In the last 24 hours, Lightfoot said, numerous people from Massillon, including former classmates, have reached out to express support and congratulations.
Marva Dodson, who has known the Lightfoot family for many years, remembers the Chicago mayoral candidate as a little girl with pigtails. She watched as she grew into a high-achieving teenager and then to a successful prosecuting attorney.
With Lightfoot as the mayor, they will have "the best and the brightest," she said.
"She is driven; she is intelligent," Dodson said. "There are so many things I could say about her. She has the ability to lead the city of Chicago in the direction it needs to go."
Within the week leading up to the election, Lightfoot and her team felt a surge of support and positive feedback from constituents. Though Lightfoot doesn't have a background in politics, she said, they were "cautiously optimistic" about the odds of her coming out on top during Tuesday's election.
“I came from very humble surroundings and didn’t have a lot of money," Lightfoot said. "My parents worked really, really hard my whole growing up years but they instilled in me values of hard work and the importance of education … I hope that people see and recognize that really anything is possible.”
Her mother is at the top of her supporters.
Ann Lightfoot held a public office for 22 years as she served on the Massillon City Schools Board of Education from 1971 to 1993. She recalled many times when dinner would grow cold as she spoke with concerned parents about busing issues or scheduling. However, she was happy to make herself available for the people she served.
The elder Lightfoot knows her daughter will do the same.
"I respect her judgement very much," she said. "Knowing my daughter would be kind of the head [of the city], it just kind of scares me even today to think of it. I believe that she would surround herself with people she knew were capable, and this to me is what a good leader is all about."
The Lightfoot family plans to rent a van "if the win happens" and travel to Chicago to celebrate with sons, Brian Lightfoot of Massillon and Derrick Lightfoot of Delaware, plus some lifelong friends. Daughter Angela Holdren of Georgia would fly in.
"Win or lose, she is still my daughter," the elder Lightfoot said. "As a family we are very proud of what she has done."