Chicago Voters Head to the Polls Again

by | April 7, 2015

By Rick Pearson and Cynthia Dizikes and Juan Perez Jr

Voters go to the polls Tuesday in the city's first mayoral runoff election, with the outcome determining not only Chicago's future but the direction of its Democratic politics.

Election Day is the culmination of a six-week runoff campaign spurred by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's failure to capture a majority on Feb. 24. Challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia is trying to deny the mayor a second term following a brutal campaign fought on TV and radio, in the mail and in union halls across the city.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., with hundreds of suburban races also on the ballot ranging from village president to school board to tax hike referendum questions.

The suburban contests include Naperville voters picking a replacement for Mayor George Pradel, who opted not to seek re-election after two decades in office. West suburban voters also will consider candidates for the College of DuPage board, which has been battered by controversy and scandal.

But it's Chicago's mayoral race that has gotten the most attention, both locally and nationally, given Emanuel's stature as a former top aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and as a political force while serving as a congressman.

And it's Garcia's effort to represent the progressive wing of the Democratic Party against the establishment Emanuel wing that has added a new dynamic to the untested nature of a one-on-one mayoral runoff campaign.

"This is a big election, with clear choices," Emanuel told reporters at a Lakeview campaign office, with a backdrop of volunteers calling potential voters. "There's a lot at stake for the city of Chicago."

Defending his Democratic credentials, Emanuel pointed to backing from some elements of organized labor, his support for raising the minimum wage and having real estate developers set aside money for affordable housing.

"That is what people are voting for, they're voting for the basic things that they want for their families, their neighborhoods and their communities," said Emanuel, who added, "Yes, my name's on the ballot. That's also true, 'Chuy's' name is on the ballot. But what's on the ballot is Chicago's future. That's what's on the ballot."

Afterward, Emanuel sat with volunteers and made roughly a dozen phone calls to potential voters. A bottle of antacid pills and ibuprofen sat in the center of the table.

"It's Mayor Emanuel, how are you?" Emanuel said to one potential voter. "Don't forget to vote, and hopefully I can count on you."

After hanging up, Emanuel wrote a "yes" next to the person's name and continued down the list.

Garcia, his voice deteriorating following a weekend illness, stopped at one of his campaign offices near Pullman to encourage supporters.

"We weren't supposed to be here, we were counted out by the pundits, by the polls," said Garcia, a Cook County commissioner and former alderman and state senator.

"In the end, leadership is about priorities," he said. "We're going to lift our schools and not close them down. We'll build real deep relationships of trust and mutual respect, because that's how we make our communities safer again. We're going to listen to residents who have concerns about noise from airplanes on the North and on the South Side of Chicago. That's the least that we can do."

Amid a busy election-eve schedule that included greeting CTA commuters at various bus and rail stops, Garcia said he'd been drinking tea with honey, in addition to a variety of unspecified home remedies, to protect his voice.

Garcia's camp is counting on the work of a ground team consisting of Chicago Teachers Union members to help turn out the vote from a variety of regional campaign offices. And he dismissed the effect of Emanuel's financial advantage over him on the election outcome.

"To the conventional thinkers, there's a big surprise in store," Garcia said.

Outside Emanuel's City Hall office, Garcia supporters the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele joined a group calling for more transparency and independence for the organization that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by Chicago police.

Members of the coalition met with Emanuel on Saturday and told him the changes they want made to the Independent Police Review Authority but said the mayor only agreed to sit down with them again to discuss the situation further. Emanuel's office said the mayor agreed to include a member of the group on the recently created IPRA advisory council.

While the anti-police brutality activists said they are not making an endorsement in the mayor's race, the Rev. Eddie Knox Jr. of Pullman Presbyterian Church said Garcia agreed early in the campaign to support their proposed reforms. And Jackson, who has endorsed Garcia, said he expected Garcia would approach allegations of brutality with "more sensitivity" than Emanuel.

In addition to mayor, Chicago voters in 18 wards will decide their next alderman as a result of runoffs created when no candidate got a majority in the first round. Those aldermanic runoff wards could drive help drive turnout higher than the 34 percent of voters who showed up in the city six weeks ago. Early voting was up by nearly two-thirds compared with to the February election.

A couple of other factors could complicate turnout predictions. Chicago Public Schools are on spring break, and the forecast for Tuesday is rain with a high in the mid-40s.

In the suburbs, four candidates are vying to replace Pradel, 77, as mayor of Naperville, who is stepping down after five terms.

And DuPage County voters will pick from 12 candidates who are running for three trustee positions on the seven-member board of trustees of the embattled College of DuPage. Two trustees are seeking re-election. The Tribune has highlighted several controversial spending issues at the community college.

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain is seeking a second term against challenger Joseph Galvan. Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully is being challenged by village Commissioner Geoff Neustadt. In Buffalo Grove, village President Jeffrey Braiman faces challenger Beverly Sussman, a village board member. And there's a six-way contest for Zion's open mayoral seat.

In Harvey, controversial three-term Mayor Eric Kellogg faces five challengers and a write-in candidate. Country Club Hills will select its first new mayor in nearly 30 years. Homer Glen Mayor Jim Daley faces challenger George Yukich. And New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann faces two challengers as he seeks a third term.

Chicago Tribune's John Byrne contributed.

(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune