Months of campaigning come to an end Tuesday as Chicago voters head to the polls to make their decisions in 18 aldermanic races and a mayoral race that's forced former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel to fight longer than anticipated for a second term against challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
Polls opened throughout the city at 6 a.m. and will remain available for voters until 7 p.m. More than 142,000 voters have already cast ballots during an Early Voting period leading up to Tuesday's runoff.
"We don't know whether or not voters are choosing to vote early as their choice of voting, or whether or not this is an indication of a high voter turnout today. We don't know," Chicago Board of Elections Chairman Langdon Neal told NBC Chicago immediately as the polls opened. "We'll have to see how the numbers turn out later this evening."
Both candidates were out Tuesday morning greeting voters and meeting with their volunteers. Garcia was at the Merchandise Mart station on the Chicago Transit Authority's Brown Line while Emanuel shook hands with commuters at the 79th Street and 95th Street stations on the Red Line.
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The election, a first for the city since a change in election rules, is uncharted waters for Chicago and the incumbent.
"Is Chicago going to move forward, or go back,” Emanuel said Monday. “We cannot stand still today, we have to move forward.”
The runoff has left Chicago’s unions divided, with Garcia, a Cook County Commissioner, garnering support from the Service Employees International Union, the Chicago Teachers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Emanuel securing endorsements from the firefighters, pipefitters and plumbers unions.
"They know the difference between jobs leaving the city, businesses leaving the city and a city now investing in its future — creating jobs," Emanuel said.
Garcia said Monday that he thought Emanuel was "panic peddling."
“He’s trying to convince voters he possesses something unique and special and he’s the only one who has it,” Garcia said. “We’re approaching this with common sense.”
Garcia on Monday rallied those who oppose red light cameras and the shuttering of 50 Chicago public schools to help encourage those who have yet to vote.
"We know exactly who early voted and who needs to vote," said volunteer Abdelnasser Rashid. "Five thousand knocking on doors who haven’t voted yet."
Emanuel’s team wouldn’t discuss strategy for Election Day, but his campaign has planned a late-night rally and said it is confident the mayor will serve a second term.
“We’re up to our challenges and also up to our opportunities if we work together to make sure everybody has a chance to participate,” Emanuel said.
The final poll released before Tuesday's election showed Emanuel with the 50 percent support he needs to secure a win.
Outside the city, voters will make decisions on nearly 700 contests and about some 2,000 candidates throughout Cook County. Additionally, there are 36 referenda on suburban ballots.
The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago says it'll monitor Tuesday's local election and field any complaints alleging voting fraud. Voters can call 312-469-6457 with any fraud concerns.
The Chicago Board of Elections also maintains a hotline at 312-269-7870.