CHICAGO – Voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick a new mayor to take on the challenges weighing down the nation’s third-largest city: Billions of dollars in unmet pension obligations, endemic corruption and persistent gun violence.
A record 14 candidates are on the ballot.
Most of the candidates announced they were running after two-term Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in September that he wouldn’t seek a third term. The field includes eight people of color and ten who have never held elected office.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s race:
1) Tuesday’s vote is likely just the beginning.
Under Chicago’s election rules, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in an April 2 runoff.
No candidate is polling at more than 14 percent, according to a survey published Sunday by 270 Strategies. Six candidates were within the poll’s margin of error of 3.7 percent of finishing in the top two.
If the race is as close as polling suggests, it could take the Chicago Board of Election some time to sort out winners and losers.
2) At least six candidates appear to have a legitimate shot.
The top three candidates – former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle – finished within less than half a percentage point in the 270 Strategies Poll.
Lightfoot, who served as president of the Chicago Police Board and the city’s Police Accountability Task Force, has cast herself as a reformer and independent who will take on a culture of corruption in city hall.
Daley, who was commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, chief of staff under President Barack Obama and a top executive at JP Morgan, says his high-level experience in government and business makes him the ideal candidate to confront the city’s financial problems. Chicago has $28 billion in unmet pension obligations. Daley is the son of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Preckwinkle has the backing of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union. She’s also the president of the county’s Democratic party, giving her a strong base of support.
Three other candidates – Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, and businessman Willie Wilson – are within striking distance of the frontrunners, according to the 270 Strategies poll.
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Mendoza, who the poll shows at 10 percent, has focused largely on reducing violent crime, checking property taxes and improving schools.
Gery Chico, at 9 percent, has served in a variety of high-level city positions and ran a lucrative law practice that has represented clients doing business with Chicago. He was chief of staff to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, head of the city’s school board and president of Chicago’s park district.
Willie Wilson, the son of a Louisiana sharecropper, grew up in poverty and had only a seventh-grade education, but went on to own several McDonald’s franchises and found a medical supplies company. Wilson, at 9 percent, has cast himself as a pro-business candidate who would work reduce taxes for city residents and corporations.
3) Corruption is casting a shadow over race.
Chicago is no stranger to corruption. More than 30 city aldermen have been convicted of political corruption since 1973.
But the political scandal unveiled by federal prosecutors in January has cast a shadow over Tuesday’s mayoral election.
Authorities say Democratic Alderman Ed Burke, a 50-year veteran of the City Council and chairman of its powerful finance committee, tried to shake down officials of a company that operates dozens of Burger King franchises in Illinois.
Four of the most competitive candidates in the race – Preckwinkle, Mendoza, Chico and Daley – have all drawn scrutiny for longstanding ties to Burke. They’ve all sought to distance themselves from the longtime power broker.
Preckwinkle received more than $100,000 from a Burke-sponsored fundraiser last year. Mendoza was married at Burke’s home. Burke endorsed Chico, who worked as an aide to the alderman 30 years ago. Daley’s family has received about $30,000 in political donations from Burke over decades.
4) Rahm opts not to try for third term.
Emanuel amassed more than $10 million campaign contributions for this election, but would have faced a difficult campaign had he decided to seek a third term.
Emanuel entered office in 2011 with one of the most impressive political resumes of any big-city mayor: He was a top adviser to President Bill Clinton, served three terms in Congress, chaired the House Democratic Caucus and became President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
As mayor, he boasted of record high school graduation rates in the city last year, significant investment in the Chicago Transit Authority, and success recruiting several large corporations to relocate to the city.
But he saw his standing in the city’s sizable African-American community sink following the court-ordered release of chilling police video that showed a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, firing 16 shots at a black teen, Laquan McDonald, on a city street.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. He was sentenced last month to 81 months in prison.
5) The winner could make history.
Lightfoot, Preckwinkle or Amara Enyia would be Chicago’s first black female mayor. Lightfoot would be the city’s first openly gay mayor. Mendoza or Chico would be the city’s first Latino mayor.
A win by Daley would continue the dynasty of one of the nation’s most powerful political families. Bill Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, was mayor of Chicago for 21 years, and his older brother, Richard M. Daley, spent 22 years as mayor.