CHICAGO (CN) – Just a day before the election, the Chicago mayor’s race is a toss-up, with no dominant candidate leading the 14-person pack and the scent of corruption trailing the establishment candidates.
According to a recent Telemundo Chicago/NBC 5 poll, four of the 14 candidates are currently polling about neck-and-neck – between 14 and 10 percent – but 19 percent of voters remain undecided ahead of Tuesday’s election.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, which appears certain, there will be a runoff election between the two candidates who win the most votes on Tuesday.
Last summer, no one imagined the mayoral contest would pan out this way – and many of the candidates never thought they’d be running.
But last September, outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel shocked the city by announcing he would not seek re-election, despite having already raised millions of dollars for his campaign.
Emanuel made the announcement one day before the beginning of Officer Jason Van Dyke’s trial for the 2014 shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, an incident that sparked major protests in his second term and highlighted public mistrust of the Chicago Police Department. Many people accused Emanuel of covering up the racially charged killing, which would likely have derailed his re-election campaign had the video of the shooting come out before the 2015 election.
Some have suggested that Emanuel decided not to run because he was afraid he would lose if Van Dyke was acquitted. However, Emanuel has denied those insinuations and told the Chicago Tribune that he had been thinking about moving on to “the next chapter” for months.
With Van Dyke found guilty of murder in October and Emanuel’s 2015 rival Jesus “Chuy” Garcia elected to Congress, Emanuel would have cruised to a re-election victory.
Instead, the mayor’s race has no dominant candidate for the first time in over 30 years.
Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County board president and chair of the county’s Democratic Party, currently leads the race – by a hair. A former teacher with nearly three decades of experience in Chicago politics, Preckwinkle backs a progressive agenda but has a lot of establishment support.
Close on her heels is Bill Daley, son and brother to two former Chicago mayors, Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. While he has never held elected office, he served as White House chief of staff for Barack Obama and as commerce secretary for Bill Clinton. Daley has also raised by far the most money of any candidate – $8.65 million – twice that of Preckwinkle, but many voters are wary of electing another Daley.
Close behind him are Susana Mendoza, the Illinois comptroller, and Lori Lightfoot, former chair of the Police Accountability Task Force formed in the wake of the controversy over the McDonald shooting.
Among the others running are community activist Amara Enyia, who won endorsements from Chance the Rapper and Kanye West; former police chief Garry McCarthy, who was fired by Emanuel amid protests over the McDonald shooting; and wealthy businessman Willie Wilson, who has handed voters hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash ostensibly to help pay their property taxes.
Early polls showed voters leaning toward establishment candidates Preckwinkle and Mendoza – until the FBI in November raided the officers of Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the city finance committee and one of Chicago’s most powerful politicians.
The federal complaint filed against Burke in January tells a typically sordid Windy City tale of corruption and political back-scratching.
Prosecutors accuse Burke of trying to extort the owners of a Burger King franchise in his ward after they chose not to hire Burke’s private tax law firm for a property tax appeal. He also pressed the owners to contribute to Preckwinkle’s campaign – which they did.
Preckwinkle claims she didn’t know about the contribution and has since returned it.
Mendoza also has political ties to Burke – as do most Chicago politicians – and was married in his home by Burke’s wife, an Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Whomever voters choose will face major challenges. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s decades of poor fiscal management left the city with serious budget shortfalls. Emanuel has helped set the city back on track by raising taxes and promoting business interests, but his solutions have also forced people out of the city, hurt minority neighborhoods which disproportionately suffered when he closed 50 schools, and earned him the nickname “Mayor 1%.”
The new mayor will play a crucial role in implementing new police reforms mandated by the Chicago Police Department’s settlement with the state of Illinois over its disproportionate use of excessive force against black and Latino residents, while at the same time wrestling with the city’s high murder rate that has earned it the nickname “Chi-Raq.”
Chicago is also the most segregated major city in America, and many poor residents feel that they’ve been abandoned by City Hall. It’s a common joke that one can tell the predominant race of a neighborhood by the state of the roads.
It is a sign of change that three of the four leading candidates are women of color, but the new mayor will inherit these age-old racial divisions, which Emanuel’s school closures and McDonald’s killing only further entrenched.
On Tuesday, voters will get the chance to decide who they believe is best fit to lead the city at this critical juncture.