Before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in September 2018 that he would not seek a third term in office, there were already about a dozen other candidates vying to take him on. After he dropped out of the race, even more threw their hats in the ring - making the field of candidates running to be Chicago's next mayor the largest in city history.
In total, 14 mayoral hopefuls made it to the ballot after a long and contentious series of petition challenges - an old tradition of filing legal objections to opponents' petition signatures in an effort to knock the competition out of the race. They include, in order of their appearance on the ballot:
Jerry Joyce, an attorney and lobbyist who previously served as a Cook County assistant state's attorney. Joyce is the son of former 19th Ward Ald. and state Sen. Jeremiah Joyce, who worked closely with former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO who led the district from 1995 to 2001 and has served as superintendent for multiple other school districts in New Orleans; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Philadelphia. Vallas also served as the city’s budget director from 1993 to 1995, and previously ran for Illinois governor in 2002, losing in the Democratic primary to now-disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Vallas later unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor alongside then-Gov. Pat Quinn in 2014.
Willie Wilson, who ran for mayor in 2015 as well as president in 2016. Wilson is a millionaire businessman who owned several McDonald’s franchises and founded a medical supply company. Shortly after announcing his candidacy, Wilson donated $100,000 to his own committee - lifting the self-funding limit to allow candidates to contribute any amount to their own committees throughout the election. In 2018, Wilson came under fire for giving away cash from his charitable foundation at church and community events to help Cook County residents with property taxes. Opponents said the stunt was designed to buy votes, though the Illinois State Board of Elections ruled that it did not violate any campaign finance laws.
Toni Preckwinkle, the current Cook County Board President and chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. Preckwinkle has been board president since 2010, and prior to that was elected to five terms as alderman of the 4th Ward on the city's South Side. In April 2018, she became chair of the Cook County Democratic Party after Assessor Joe Berrios lost his primary election. Preckwinkle enjoys significant support from organized labor, particularly Service Employees International Union Local 1 and the Chicago Teachers Union. She championed the ill-fated soda tax, which was repealed amid public outcry just months after it went into effect in August 2017. If Preckwinkle were to win, she would become the first mayor to also chair the Cook County Democratic Party since Richard J. Daley.
Bill Daley, the son of one mayor and brother of another. Richard J. Daley, who served as mayor for 21 years, is Bill Daley’s father, and his brother Richard M. Daley became the longest-serving Chicago mayor before declining to run for a seventh term in 2011. Bill Daley was U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2000, and White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2012. A familiar name in Chicago politics, Bill Daley briefly entered the race for Illinois governor in 2013 before taking himself out of the running, and most recently worked in finance - enabling him to quickly build a multimillion-dollar war chest, the largest of all the candidates in the race.
Garry McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent who was fired by Emanuel during the fallout after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. The Bronx native was a New York City police officer from 1981 to 2006, spending the last six years as deputy commissioner for operations before he was hired to lead the police department in Newark, New Jersey. Emanuel then brought him to Chicago in 2011, where he was CPD superintendent until Emanuel asked for his resignation in 2015, days after video was released showing then-Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times. A self-described “conservative Democrat,” McCarthy currently works in consulting.
Gery Chico, an attorney who was former Mayor Richard M. Daley's chief of staff as well as board president of Chicago Public Schools. Chico unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, then served as president of the Chicago Park District and chairman of the City Colleges of Chicago board before running for mayor in 2011. Chico came in second of six candidates, earning 24 percent of the vote, behind Emanuel's 55 percent. In a statement announcing his run this time around, Chicago said he will focus on "violence, education, jobs and economic development."
Susana Mendoza, who officially announced her campaign eight days after she was re-elected to a second term as Illinois Comptroller. She insisted for weeks prior that she was focused on the midterms - even after a portion of her announcement video was leaked. She had long been rumored to be considering a run for mayor, with supporters circulating petitions in the months before her announcement. Mendoza previously served as an Illinois state representative from 2000 to 2011, then as Chicago city clerk through 2016 when she was elected comptroller.
Amara Enyia, an attorney and community activist who also ran for mayor in 2015. She exited that race to back then-Ald. Bob Fioretti’s unsuccessful bid. With a doctorate in education policy, she has worked as a public policy advisor in various capacities, and is currently the director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps her most notable campaign moment came when she nabbed the endorsement of Chicago's Chance the Rapper, who also donated $400,000 to keep her campaign afloat.
La Shawn Ford, an Illinois state representative who has represented portions of the city’s West Side since 2007. He is a licensed real estate broker and insurance agent, according to his biography on the General Assembly's website. He ran unopposed for re-election to the 8th House District, winning a sixth term in the post he hopes to abandon should his run for mayor be successful.
Neal Sales-Griffin, a tech entrepreneur who is currently the CEO of Code Now, a nonprofit that teaches low-income students how to code. Sales-Griffin also teaches at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, and serves on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations.
Lori Lightfoot, the former Chicago Police Board president. Emanuel appointed Lightfoot to head the board in 2015, and to chair the Police Accountability Task Force in 2016, in the wake of the McDonald shooting. A former federal prosecutor from 1996 to 2002, Lightfoot has also held various roles in city government, including as chief of staff for Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications in 2005. She most recently was a partner at Mayer Brown LLP and entered the race before Emanuel dropped out - criticizing the candidates who launched their bids after his announcement.
Bob Fioretti, a former alderman who also ran for mayor in 2015. He represented the city’s 2nd Ward from 2007 to 2015, when the redistricted map pushed him outside the ward’s boundaries. He then decided to run for mayor instead, but eventually dropped out and endorsed Emanuel's re-election bid ahead of the runoff vote against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Later that year, Fioretti launched an unsuccessful campaign for state Senate in the 5th District. Most recently, Fioretti made an unsuccessful bid for Cook County Board President against Preckwinkle in 2018.
John Kozlar, an attorney who is currently part of the risk solutions team at Aon plc. He unsuccessfully ran for 11th Ward alderman at age 21, then mounted another bid for the same position in 2015, forcing a run-off against Patrick Daley Thompson, a member of the powerful Daley family who ultimately won. Kozlar is last of all the candidates when it comes to fundraising, with just over $1,000 on hand.