A toll of 550 people killed in 2018. Almost 10,000 guns seized. Corruption scandals engulfing City Hall. And an internationally-covered black eye given to the city’s racial issues courtesy of an actor. Why would anyone want to be mayor of this empire?
Well, 14 people do.
One of the largest groups of candidates ever to run for mayor includes some of the most well-known Chicago names from the last 30 years, as well as a former police superintendent, the city schools CEO, a federal prosecutor and a few millennials who all say that they are best-suited to run a city still reeling from major scandals in the police department and offices of some of Chicago’s most powerful aldermen.
Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced late last year that he would not seek a third term.
Some recognizable names
Bill Daley’s campaign has raised roughly $5 million – almost double the amount of the next-closest candidate, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. With a name considered royalty in local politics, the former United States Commerce Secretary is the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who after 22 years in office became the longest-serving mayor in city history. Earlier there was their legendary father, who served for over 20 until his death while in office in 1976.
Bill Daley’s brother was credited for decades-long beautification and cultural projects that helped raise the city’s population while bringing in millions of tourists annually.
But the 13 other candidates also hope he’s remembered by many Chicagoans for leaving the city with a debt of around $700 million, something the city has been trying to overcome ever since. Chicago’s finances have been rebounding thanks in part to a large property tax increase put in place under Emanuel, but not before Moody’s Investors Service classified the city’s bond status as junk.
While Preckwinkle hopes there’s enough “Daley fatigue” for voters to be leery of electing a third member of the same family to office, many Chicagoans also have grown tired of the corruption that continues to plague much of the city’s politics.
Some of that cronyism has recently put the once-possible frontrunner Preckwinkle on the defensive after a recent Chicago Tribune report that she hired the son of powerful old-school Alderman Ed Burke to a $100,000 a year job with the county. Burke, the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history, representing his South Side district for 50 years, was recently charged with attempted extortion after the FBI raided his offices in January.
Police reform remains a key issue
Emanuel’s former police superintendent, Garry McCarthy – once a close confidant to the mayor while dealing with the city’s ongoing violence issue – hopes to succeed his former boss while running on the campaign slogan “Leadership. For a Change.”
Emanuel fired McCarthy as part of the fallout following the release of explosive police dashcam video that showed white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014 while McDonald walked away from police. Emanuel and the police department were accused by community activists of trying to cover up and withhold the release of the video.
The city made the video public only hours before a deadline for its release imposed by a county judge. The video’s release led to widespread protests throughout the city and a federal investigation into civil rights abuses within the police department.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder late last year and recently sentenced to less than seven years in prison.
While all the candidates claim they are the right choice for continuing to reform the police department, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Lightfoot has made holding abusive officers accountable for their actions a bedrock of her campaign. In the wake of the Laquan McDonald scandal, Lightfoot was appointed by Emanuel to head the newly created police accountability task force.
Many of the panel’s recommendations were similar to the findings in the US Justice Department report which found serious problems with the police department’s handling of racism within its ranks. Under Lightfoot, the city replaced its widely criticized police oversight agency with a civilian body designed to have much more oversight over officers and their supervisors.
With many of the candidates promising they would fire current Police Commissioner Eddie Johnson after taking office, Lightfoot claims such a move might do more harm than good as the city approaches the summer months, when hotter weather traditionally brings spikes in violence. In the month of January, the city recorded the fewest number of murders in nine years with 20 people killed, according to Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department.
A diverse field of candidates
Forty-nine-year old Jerry Joyce is a former Cook County state’s attorney who claims he would confront the city’s ballooning billion-dollar pension deficits not by raising property taxes but rather by lucrative new revenue sources including legalized marijuana and a publicly owned casino.
Two other mayoral hopefuls are highlighting their backgrounds with the Chicago public school system as the experience needed to move the city forward as an educational and technology center. Former CPS CEO Paul Vallas ran the nation’s third-largest public school system for six years, earning praise from then-President Bill Clinton for helping turn around one of the most troubled school systems in the nation.
And in an ironic twist, it was Gery Chico, former chief of staff to then-Mayor Richard Daley, who recommended Vallas for the schools top job. Chico is now making his second run at mayor, after losing to Emanuel in 2011. Chico also ran for US Senate in Illinois in 2004, losing to a state senator named Barack Obama.
Business owner and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson; former city clerk Susana Mendoza; state Rep. La Shawn Ford; former alderman Robert Fioretti; Amara Enyia, a community activist in her mid 30s; 30-year-old attorney John Kozlar; and Neal Sáles-Griffin, CEO of CodeNow, a nonprofit that teaches coding to low-income students, round out the field of candidates.
If no one wins at least 50% of the vote on Tuesday, then the two candidates with the most votes will square off in a runoff on April 2.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the names of candidates Gery Chico, Susana Mendoza and Neal Sáles-Griffin.