Chicago Election: 8 Big Takeaways

Tuesday night saw an historic mayoral race, low turnout, stunning ousters, major runoffs and more

Chicago's municipal elections were full of surprises. Here are eight big takeaways to help make sense of what happened at the ballot box:


No matter who wins the April runoff election, Chicago's next mayor will be an African-American woman for the first time in the city's history. Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle both advanced to the runoff election, claiming victory over 12 other candidates in the largest-ever field of mayoral hopefuls.

Of the 55 mayors Chicago has had, just one has been a woman in a city that is 51 percent female. One-third of Chicago's residents are black, but the city has elected just one black mayor - whose tenure was plagued by conflict split along racial lines known simply as "the Council Wars." With the ascendance of its first leader who is both black and female, plus a City Council poised to look very different than it did during Harold Washington's administration, this mayoral election will mark a new era for Chicago.


As of early Wednesday, 530,190 ballots were cast in Tuesday's election. Out of just under 1.6 million registered voters, that's about a 33.5 percent turnout. That's less than half a percentage point higher than the record low of 33.1 percent in 2007, a race that Mayor Richard M. Daley won - and was expected to win - in a landslide. This time around, with a wide open field of 14 candidates, even election officials said they were puzzled as to why so few people cast their ballots.

Now compare Tuesday's 33.5 percent turnout to the 61 percent turnout Chicago saw in the November midterms. Your vote is important in every election, but rarely does it count more than in a competitive local race that could be separated by as little as one vote (yes, that happens). One possible explanation? A Chicago Board of Elections spokesman cited "a remarkable number of institutions and individuals... reluctant to even offer an endorsement, saying they'll wait until April 2" perhaps influencing voters to do the same. [[506416642, C]]


As Lightfoot took the stage at her election night rally, she beamed while declaring victory. Less than an hour later, Preckwinkle did the same, both women thanking supporters for propelling them on to the next round. Their victory speeches looked much like those of any other political candidates - but there was one distinct difference. The majority of campaign victory speeches aren't delivered after winning less than one out of every five votes cast. Lightfoot earned 17 percent of the vote and Preckwinkle took 16 percent, according to preliminary results from the Chicago Board of Elections.

That means two-thirds of people who chose to cast a ballot did not vote for either of the two candidates still in the running to be the next mayor. Highly competitive races are generally good for democracy, bringing a diverse set of viewpoints to the table. But with 14 candidates hoping to reach a benchmark of 15 percent in a non-partisan election, some activists, endorsement guides and individual voters chose to recommend strategically choosing a candidate that "could" win rather than voting for the candidate they saw as best suited to the job of being mayor.

Some experts have suggested that it might be time to take a look at a system like ranked-choice voting, which has been implemented in Maine, in which voters rank candidates by preference to find the person a majority of the city would feel comfortable with. That's not to say Lightfoot or Preckwinkle wouldn't have won, but rather that it may have given a clearer picture of what Chicagoans want - and prevent candidates from "playing spoiler" - in such a robust group of mayoral hopefuls.


Bill Daley, son of one mayor and brother of another, came in third place with 14.7 percent of the vote, about 1.3 points behind second-place Preckwinkle, and thus did not make the runoff election. Attorney Jerry Joyce seemed to outperform expectations, taking 7.3 percent of the vote with relatively little name ID before launching his campaign, to finish roughly half a point behind Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. Joyce is the son of former 19th Ward Ald. and state Sen. Jeremiah Joyce, who worked closely with former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Joyce captured the high-turnout 13th, 19th and 41st Wards (dominating his home turf with 44 percent of the 19th Ward vote). If Daley had won even one out of every five ballots cast for Joyce - a reasonable assumption, given their families' prior alliance - that would have been enough to put Daley over Preckwinkle and into the runoff. [[506416652, C]]


Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno will run the 1st Ward no longer, after he was taken out by newcomer Daniel La Spata. La Spata was damaged late in the race when a photo of his 2013 bachelor party surfaced showing him in a banana costume, posing with four black children and several men in monkey masks - a picture his campaign manager said was taken out of context. Still, that didn't deter voters from choosing him over Moreno, who himself was plagued by scandal. In January, Chicago police opened an investigation into whether Moreno, appointed in 2010, filed a false police report when he reported his car was missing, later to be found with a woman he dated behind the wheel. Police also investigated last year whether or not Moreno impersonated an officer during a parking dispute, eventually finding no wrongdoing on his part. La Spata won 61 percent of the vote compared to Moreno's 39 percent.

Ald. John Arena was swept out of the Northwest Side 45th Ward, as James "Jim" Gardiner earned more than 51 percent of the vote in a field of four candidates to win the race outright without a runoff. Gardiner is a Chicago Fire Department EMT who coaches basketball at Chicago Police Schools. Arena is a member of the City Council's Progressive Caucus first elected in 2011. Two other candidates earned less than 10 percent of the vote.

Ald. Joe Moore was also ousted from the 49th Ward in a manner that was similar to how he was first elected. Activist Maria Hadden earned nearly 64 percent of the vote, running to the left of Moore - who ran as an outsider when he was first elected over Mayor Richard M. Daley's appointed alderman in 1991. Under Daley, Moore flexed his progressive muscle, but critics said he had grown too close to Mayor Rahm Emanuel to still call himself a progressive.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Toni Preckwinkle told supporters, noting “our fight is far from over.”


After avoiding it last time by the slimmest of margins, Ald. Deb Mell is now poised for a runoff against Rossana Rodriguez in the 33rd Ward. Rodriguez earned 42 percent of the vote compared to 41 percent for Mell, separated by just 66 votes as of Wednesday morning. Mell ran for the first time in 2015 to defend her appointment to her father’s old seat, avoiding a runoff election by 17 votes, a lead that materialized thanks to absentee ballots counted after Election Day. This time, she faced an even tougher challenge in Rodriguez, a Democratic Socialist that the Chicago Reader said could be "the next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez." Mell’s father Dick Mell was once the Northwest Side kingmaker, as alderman beginning in 1975, the ward’s Democratic committeeman starting the following year and the father-in-law of disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Now his daughter will have one more chance to extend the family's Northwest Side reign.

In the neighboring 30th Ward, Ald. Ariel Reboyras and Jessica Gutierrez, the daughter of former Rep. Luis Gutierrez, are headed to a runoff. Reboyras took 48 percent of the vote while Gutierrez captured 47 percent, setting the stage for two longtime Emanuel allies - Reboyras, who's carried the mayor's agenda on several occasions, and Luis Gutierrez, who chaired his 2015 re-election campaign - to face off once again.

Ald. Pat O'Connor, Emanuel's floor leader who succeeded Ald. Ed Burke as chair of the City Council Committee on Finance, is headed to a runoff after earning 33 percent of the vote in a five-way race. O'Connor has represented the 40th Ward since 1983, and faces progressive challenger Andre Vasquez, a Democratic Socialist endorsed by several progressive organizations.

Ald. Leslie Hairston will likely face activist William Calloway in a runoff in the 5th Ward on Chicago's South Side. Hairston, in office since 1999, earned 49 percent of the vote against two candidates. Calloway came in second with just under 27 percent. Calloway is credited with pushing for the release of the video showing Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. A major issue in the race where the candidates differ? Hairston has said she opposes a Community Benefits Agreement between community groups and the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center nearby, while Calloway has expressed support. [[238427591, C]]


Ald. Tom Tunney won re-election outright against two challengers, dealing a blow to the Cubs organization that tried to oust him from the 44th Ward. Tunney earned 64 percent of the vote in the Lake View ward he's represented since 2002. In recent years, the Cubs-owning Ricketts family has been vocal in their frustrations with Tunney, at odds over night games, parking, zoning and various projects as the family continues to aggressively buy up and redevelop areas around the stadium. The Ricketts reportedly funded both of Tunney's opponents, who fell short of even pushing him into a runoff. The Cubs were also involved in the nearby 47th Ward, backing the team's lobbyist Heather Way Kitzes in a nine-way race for the open seat. Kitzes finished fifth, chalking up another loss for the Ricketts, the billionaire family whose influence seems to have its limits, given Tuesday night's results.


Another alderman who won re-election outright against two opponents was embattled 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, who collected nearly 54 percent of the vote less than two months after he was hit with a federal charge of attempted extortion. Burke is the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history and faced two opponents in the predominantly Hispanic ward: Jaime Guzman and Tanya Patino, who both have ties to Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. While he did acknowledge after the results were in that it had been one of his more difficult races, he prevailed in the effort and was scheduled to appear in court just days before he's sworn in to his 13th term.

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