Chicago voters will head to the polls this week to elect a new mayor and members of the city council. Below is a guide to these upcoming elections, including interesting trends and potential implications.
The mayoral race will almost certainly head to a runoff between the top two vote-getters on April 4. Additionally, all fifty aldermen seats on the city council are up for election this year.
Voters in Chicago will go to the polls on Tuesday, February 28, to elect a city government for the next four years. The election will be held amid a turbulent time for the city, as voters are concerned about crime, education, public transportation, and the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.
Three city-wide elected positions will appear on the ballot: Mayor, City Clerk, and City Treasurer. The latter two positions, held by incumbents Anna Valencia and Melissa Conyears-Ervin respectively, are running unopposed. Additionally, all fifty members of the Chicago City Council are also up for re-election.
Voters will also elect members of newly created Police District Councils designed to provide oversight and accountability to the city’s police force. Each of the city’s twenty-two police districts will be represented by a three-member council.
Chicago elections are formally non-partisan, although most candidates running informally identify with the Democratic party. If no candidate running in the citywide races or City Council races obtains more than fifty percent of the vote on February 28, the top-two vote-getters will advance to a runoff election to be held on April 4.
With early voting turnout significantly higher than the past two elections, this year’s Chicago elections will be considerably exciting to watch. Although these elections are unlikely to serve as a reflection of the state of broader Illinois politics, let alone national politics, they will determine what sorts of policies the nation’s third-largest city will pursue for the next four years.
Polling shows that a runoff is almost certain to happen for the third straight election cycle. Surprisingly, the incumbent, Mayor Lightfoot, could miss the runoff. Lightfoot faces voter disapproval of her mayoral tenure, which stems from both her handling of criminal justice issues and what her critics call an abrasive approach to governing.
Current polling suggests that Vallas, one of the more conservative candidates in the race, will make the runoff, but that the second slot could go to either Mayor Lightfoot, Congressman Garcia (running to Lightfoot’s left), Commissioner Johnson (who has the support of the city’s powerful teachers union and several progressive groups that backed Garcia’s 2015 bid to unseat then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel), or Mr. Wilson (who has name recognition from his prior campaigns and stunts such as gas giveaways). One additional factor to note is that all of the candidates running, with the exception of Congressman Garcia and Mr. Vallas, are African-American; any split among the city’s powerful African-American vote could propel the two non-African-American candidates to a runoff.
Chicago City Council Races to Watch
All fifty aldermen seats on the city council are up for election this year. Here are some key factors to keep in mind:
Nine aldermen are running for re-election unopposed. Additionally, Bennett Lawson, the current chief of staff for outgoing 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, is running unopposed to succeed his predecessor.
Twelve Aldermen (including Tunney) are retiring and not running for reelection this year.
Since the last election in 2019, four incumbents who were elected that year resigned mid-term: Patrick Daley Thompson (11th Ward, resigned due to a felony conviction), George Cardenas (12th Ward, elected to the Cook County Board of Review), Michael Scott (24th Ward, resigned to take a private-sector job), and Michele Smith (43rd Ward, resigned to seek new opportunities). All four aldermen were replaced by mayoral appointees who have to be confirmed by the City Council and are now seeking full terms.
The city’s Progressive Caucus, which has grown to eighteen members after the 2019 elections, could shrink with four of its members retiring, and with some of its incumbents vulnerable to challenges from more moderate opponents (such as 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez). However, some of the open seats could be filled with progressive candidates (namely the 5th and 10th Wards), and progressives could add to their number by winning open races in a few key areas (the 26th Ward, located on the Northwest Side and the 46th Ward, located on the city’s North Side). Progressives also have a chance through a challenger to an incumbent in the 36th Ward, which stretches from West Town near the Loop to the Montclare neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side.
Redistricting that took place last year will decrease the Council’s Black Caucus membership by one, as the 34th Ward moved from the Far South Side to predominantly White neighborhoods downtown. (Former prosecutor Bill Conway is the heavy favorite to win the seat.)
On the other hand, the Council’s Latino Caucus is set to increase by one, with the retirement of long-serving Alderman Edward Burke in the 14th Ward after a record fifty-four years in office. Located on the Southwest Side, the 14th Ward is now predominantly Latino; Jeylú Gutiérrez, the district director for Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, is the heavy favorite to win the seat.
LGBTQ representation could also increase, as the retirements of LGBTQ aldermen in the 44th Ward (Tunney) and 46th Ward (Cappleman) could be canceled out by the election of openly gay State Representative Lamont Robinson in the 5th Ward (on the South Side) and by organizer Jessie Fuentes in the 26th Ward.