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Lori Lightfoot’s Chicago struggles highlight plight of big-city mayors

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks in Chicago on Feb. 1, 2023.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks in Chicago on Feb. 1.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... The U.S. Supreme Court hears a challenge to President Biden’s student loan program. ... Chicago holds its mayoral election; contest heads to an April 4 runoff if no one gets more than 50% of vote. ... President Biden discusses affordable health care in Virginia Beach, Va. ... Sen. John Fetterman’s, D-Pa., office says his recovery will be a “weeks-long process,” per NBC’s Frank Thorp. ... And Rupert Murdoch admits some Fox News hosts endorsed false claims about the 2020 election.

But first: It hasn’t been easy being a big-city mayor in our post-Covid world. 

Just ask Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is going to have a difficult time today even qualifying for the mayoral runoff, according to polls.

As we saw in last year’s midterm elections, it was a benefit being a governor — whose states got showered with Covid-relief money. 

Indeed, only one incumbent governor (Democrat Steve Sisolak, who faced pushback for his state’s Covid restrictions) lost re-election last year. 

But the same hasn’t been true for mayors, who face gutted downtowns, homelessness and crime, all while clashing with (sometimes super-progressive) city councils. 

And the fact that big-city Democratic mayors have struggled is a blow to progressive governance.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 9

That’s how many candidates are running to be the next mayor of Chicago, where voters are heading to the polls on Tuesday.

If no candidate wins a majority Tuesday, which seems almost assured in a nine-person field, then the Top two candidates will move onto a runoff election in April. The problem for Lightfoot is polls show her failing to separate from the pack and at risk of missing out on that runoff

Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas, Democratic Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson and businessman Willie Wilson have all polled in double-digits in recent polling, along with Lightfoot, making forecasting the race murky. 

According to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, there will be about $18 million spent on ads this year, with Vallas spending the most at $4.2 million. Lightfoot and Wilson have each spent about $3.6 million, followed by García and Johnson at about $3 million.

Other numbers to know:

39: The number of industries across the globe that China-linked hackers targeted, per a new global threat report from a top cybersecurity firm, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian reports.

530: How many households in East Palestine, Ohio, federal agencies reached as part of Biden’s order to go door-to-door and check on residents in the community affected by a recent train derailment and toxic spill.  

$8.6 million: The amount that Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., spent on ads in her 2022 re-election to the House, per AdImpact, in what will be a competitive open seat now that she’s running for Senate. 

$1 billion: The amount the Federal Aviation Administration is giving to U.S. airports as part of the 2021 infrastructure law. 

33%: The rate by which roles in diversity and inclusion declined by the end of 2022, compared to a 21% attrition rate for other roles.

3,800: The number of children that were found to be working at U.S. companies in violation of the law, the Biden administration said Monday as it announced new crackdowns on child labor.

42,000 square feet: The size of a new local and federal law enforcement office in downtown D.C. that will operate to try to prevent future attacks like the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

30: How many days federal agencies have to remove TikTok from government devices.

Headline of the day

Eyes on 2024: A page from DeSantis’ book

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is hitting the road this week to publicize his new book, “The Courage to Be Free,” as his potential presidential campaign takes shape. And NBC News’ Ali Vitali reports that the book offers a preview of how DeSantis might address Trump on the campaign trail. 

DeSantis mentioned Trump more than 100 times in the book, and he did not overtly criticize the former president, per Vitali and NBC’s Haley Talbot, Kate Santaliz, Emily Gold and Carrie Dann. Instead the book paints DeSantis as “a politically adept student ready to take the mantle— however unwilling his mentor is to give it to him,“ Vitali writes. She notes the book “praises Trump’s ability to channel the sentiments of the GOP grassroots and policies.” 

The book underscores a pattern emerging on the presidential campaign trail, per NBC News’ Sahil Kapur: Republicans are hesitant to say where they actually differ from the former president.  

But that hasn’t stopped them from courting different factions of the GOP. While Trump is slated to speak at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, others are skipping the event, NBC News’ Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen report. Some, including DeSantis, are instead heading to a donor retreat with the Club for Growth, a conservative group that has drawn Trump’s ire in the past.

In other campaign news: 

A new Virginia cavalier?: The Dispatch reports that Club for Growth Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Parkinson is considering a Senate bid in Virginia against Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. 

Golden opportunity: Super PACs are gearing up to spend in California’s Senate race, which “could unleash a tsunami of outside spending,” per Politico. 

On for more spending in Wisconsin: Fair Courts America, a conservative group funded by Richard Uihlein that’s backing the more conservative judicial candidate in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race, booked its first ad buy of the general election to the tune of almost $1 million Monday, per AdImpact. But the liberal-aligned candidate and an allied group booked more than $2 million, and they continue to hold a big ad-spending edge. 

Speaking of that Wisconsin race: The closely watched state Supreme Court race could be affected by a state constitutional amendment also on the ballot in April relating to cash bail, which could boost conservative and independent voter turnout, NBC News’ Adam Edelman reports. 

Shapiro talks Fetterman: Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro told NBC News’ Dasha Burns Monday that he thinks Democratic Sen. John Fetterman, who has sought in-patient treatment for depression, will return and “serve for a good long time.”

Disney’s whole new world: Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill that will allow him to appoint supervisors to the board that governs the district that houses Disney World. 

Santos squabbles: New York Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito is out with a new bill that would limit House members convicted of various financial crimes from profiting off of their life story out of office, a bill Politico reports is targeted at the congressman’s fellow New York Republican, Rep. George Santos, who is the subject of a handful of investigations.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

In a surprise visit to Ukraine, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reaffirmed the United States’ support for providing economic aid to the country. 

Transgender people face increasingly divisive rhetoric at state capitals as lawmakers aim to restrict gender-affirming care, the Associated Press reports.

The FBI arrested a man who allegedly stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, wearing a panda costume.