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With polls closed across Chicago, all eyes are on whether Rahm Emanuel can clinch another four years as mayor without heading to a runoff election.
A runoff looked likely as results rolled in Tuesday. Emanuel sat at about 46 percent for much of the evening, falling short of the 50-percent-plus-one threshold he needed to avoid another vote in April. Challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia garnered about 34 percent, while candidates Willie Wilson, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and William "Dock" Walls trailed at 10 percent or less a piece.
“There’s not much drama as to who is going to draw the most votes on Tuesday," John P. Frendreis, a political science professor at Loyola University Chicago, said. "The big unknown is whether (Emanuel) will go 50-percent-plus-one or fall below 50 percent.”
Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, has spent big to try to propel himself to an outright victory. He blanketed the airwaves and sought a late boost with help from friend President Barack Obama. As he embarked on a final push for votes on Tuesday, he pledged to fight to improve the city's schools and services for veterans.
"We've got opportunities ahead of us," Emanuel told volunteers at a South Side field office before urging them back to the phones. "We've got challenges. We have to have both the strength and the solutions to meet them head on to continue to build a great city."
Despite those efforts, Garcia, says he believes he can force Emanuel to the first runoff in a Chicago mayoral election since the process was changed in the 1990s.
"They recognize my candidacy as being the most viable of all of the candidates here and tomorrow will be a great surprise," he said Monday. "It will be a big win for Chicago and for change."
Garcia's candidacy has gotten a big boost thanks to an endorsement from the Chicago Teachers Union, which has clashed with Emanuel over his record on education, including the decision to close dozens of under-performing city schools. Attacks on that issue resonated with Janice Beckham, a retired educator who said she voted for Garcia because she feels the mayor is "anti-teacher."
Polls opened at 6 a.m. Voters have the right to cast a ballot if they are in line by the time polls close at 7 p.m. Voting has also been extended one hour in four precincts that opened late, officials said.
All 50 city aldermen were also on the ballot, with some facing each other due to redistricting. NBC Chicago has identified 12 aldermanic races that are likely to be especially interesting.
Citywide, voters were asked three referenda questions. Voters in 37 wards saw a fourth question pertaining to the Chicago Board of Education.
Interest appeared high ahead of Election Day, with strong early voting figures, but by Tuesday officials said turnout could be record low.
And some worried that the frigid temperatures could have a chilling effect on Tuesday's in-person voting.
"I've always said very cold weather and having elections at this time of the year is incumbent protection, and so it leads towards the incumbent at this stage," Fioretti said Tuesday morning outside the Jefferson Park station on the Chicago Transit Authority's Blue Line. The alderman said he still thinks the race will go to a runoff, an outcome he said is good for the city's residents.
"A runoff will be very good for Chicago because it's a discussion of the issues," he said. "We didn't see really that much of a discussion during the debates. You have an hour. You have five candidates, a minute answer. Now maybe we're going to have an understanding on the issues of crime and economic development and education and the future of this city."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said 140 teams of attorneys and investigators were monitoring elections in Chicago and Springfield. The Chicago Board of Elections will have another 300 inspectors out making sure polling places are free of voter intimidation and electioneering.
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