- 14 candidates are vying to succeed Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the city holds its first round of voting Tuesday.
- Frontrunners include Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
- The crowded field of candidates virtually ensures that no one will receive the required 50 percent of the vote. The top vote-getters will advance to a runoff election in April.
Chicago's mayoral election will feature a heated debate about the direction, priorities and management of the city -- at least, once the final candidates are known.
The first round of voting will be held on Tuesday. More than a dozen candidates have lined up to succeed Rahm Emanuel, who stunned Chicago's political world when he announced in September he wasn't seeking a third term.
Given the large number of candidates -- 14 are still in the race -- it's certain that no one will receive the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff in April. As many as five candidates -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, former police board President Lori Lightfoot, former public schools board President Gery Chico and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza -- are considered to have a shot at making the runoff.
Polls show they are all bunched up within the margin of error, with all of them garnering less than 15 percent support apiece -- much less than the number of undecided voters. In a low turnout municipal election with so many candidates, it's anybody's guess who will win support from undecided residents.
"It's just too close to call across the board," says former Alderman Charles Bernardini, who is Preckwinkle's finance chair.
Much of the end-of-season mud is being hurled in Daley's direction. Daley's $7 million campaign treasury total represents less than a quarter of what Emanuel raised for his last race, but it's about double what any of his opponents have. He has unmatched name recognition, since his brother and father (both named Richard) each served as mayor for more than 20 years.
Whether his family ties will ultimately be a boost for Daley or a hindrance will be one of the key questions of the runoff, assuming Daley makes it to the next round.
The city's business community support Daley, but his very name conjures up all kinds of questions about whether Chicago now wants to change the way City Hall is run. Assuming Daley makes it into the runoff, says Larry Bennett, a retired DePaul University political scientist, "just because of his name, whoever will be challenging him in the runoff will really be raising this question of how things get done in the city."
The election is playing out against a backdrop of a corruption scandal. In November, the FBI raided the offices of Ed Burke, a longtime power on the city's board of aldermen. An indictment of Burke could come soon after Tuesday's election, although that is not certain. Since the raid, news has broken that Alderman Danny Solis wore a wire for more than two years, while the phones of both Burke and Solis were tapped. "There's got to be a whole bunch of names of other alderman and developers that will come out," says Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Will Chicago Voters Want to Break from City's Political Past?
Aside from the scandal, the mayoral candidates are debating the way the city's been run under Emanuel and, to a lesser extent, the way it was run under his immediate predecessor, Richard M. Daley.
Emanuel was forced into a runoff four years ago in a "tale of two cities" campaign that featured widespread discontent that on his watch the Loop and nearby neighborhoods had prospered, while neighborhoods on the south and west sides of town are struggling with poverty. Emanuel has closed dozens of public schools in poor neighborhoods and been accused of failing to ameliorate relations between police and residents of low-income areas. Chicago has lost roughly a quarter-million black residents since 2000.
Emanuel has acted as a real estate agent for Fortune 500 companies, with major companies such as McDonald's and Motorola moving into the city on his watch. Several candidates are continuing to sound the downtown vs. the neighborhoods theme that dogged Emanuel four years ago, questioning his use of tax-increment financing for major developments.
Of all the candidates, Daley is seen as the one most likely to pursue policies similar to Emanuel. "He's going to be seen as a continuation of Rahm, for good or bad," Bernardini says. "Will people say 'no more Daley,' or will they say he's got the connections and the brains to keep Chicago afloat?"
Daley represents not just a symbolic third term of Emanuel, but a literal third Daley mayoralty. If Daley's in the runoff, his opponent will seek to make the election a referendum on him and on the city's recent past. "Some of the candidates have been pretty aggressive about talking about Rahm Emanuel and the failures of his administration, but a number are also confronting the shadow of [Richard M.] Daley," Bennett says. "A lot of the city's fiscal problems date back to his administration," which spanned 22 years from 1989 to 2011.
The other candidates may stress different issues, but broadly speaking they are trying to define the election in one of two ways, says Simpson, a former alderman.
Preckwinkle, Chico and Mendoza are each saying that they've got the experience necessary to run the city and continue its success, but that they'll be better or more equitable than Emanuel. Lightfoot and Amara Enyia, a consultant and Austin Chamber of Commerce director (Austin is a community on Chicago's West Side), are running on more of a reform agenda, rejecting the idea of a third Emanuel term or Daley mayoralty.
Chicago is a tribal city. How different racial and ethnic groups and various parts of the city will end up voting in April can't be guessed at until the two final candidates are known.
The fact that there are so many candidates in the running -- and that so much of the debate turns on continuation or rejection of traditional Chicago City Hall insider politics and wheeling and dealing -- suggests that it marks yet another marker of the end of machine politics, Bennett suggests.
All 50 seats on the board of alderman are up as well. A progressive bloc currently holds about 20 percent of the seats. That number is expected to grow in these elections. They won't change the balance of power, but the next mayor is likely to face more opposition than Emanuel did. Especially if it's Bill Daley.
"This is really about the end of the old Democratic Party structuring elections in Chicago," Bennett says. "Chicago is going to continue to be a one-party city, but it's not governed by a party like it used to be."