How The Chicago Mayoral Race Is Playing Out

Here at First Past the Poll, we’re really big on elections — and we’re even bigger on using plural first-person pronouns when the entire blog is run by one person, who very well could just use the singular “I.” As such, even in the years without major elections for federal office, we’re following some of the marquee local and state-level races taking place across the country.

And that’s exactly the focus of this postChicago’s 2019 election for mayor.

As of writing, the first round of this election, February 26th, is just about a month away. If need be, a runoff is scheduled for April 2nd…and it looks like the need may end up being, because there will be fourteen (!!!) names on the ballot. That’s the most candidates the mayoral race has seen since at least 1999, when an Illinois state law mandated the city to switch to nonpartisan elections.

There doesn’t seem to be a unified consensus as to why so many people have thrown their hat in the ring, but it’s important to note that around a dozen candidates had already declared by early September, when current mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he wouldn’t be seeking a third term.

Indeed, Emanuel likely was a large motivator for most of the candidates: he’s faced many scandals during his eight years in office, including the closing of 50 public schools and his handling of the murder of Laquan McDonald, an African American teen who was unjustly shot by a police officer. These compounding controversies, among others, nearly cost Emanuel a shot at re-election in 2015, so it’s not surprising to see him bow down now.

But with the field to replace him so vast, Chicago voters have a seemingly tough decision to make in a few weeks. Here’s the list from which they get to choose, in alphabetical order by last name:

  • Gery Chico, former Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education
  • Bill Daley, former White House Chief of Staff, former United States Secretary of Commerce, and brother of former Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley
  • Amara Enyia, Director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce
  • Robert Fioretti, former Alderman from Chicago’s 2nd Ward
  • La Shawn Ford, member of the Illinois House of Representatives
  • Neal Sáles-Griffin, professor at Northwestern University
  • Jerry Joyce, former Assistant States Attorney
  • John Kozlar, two-time candidate for Alderman of Chicago’s 11th Ward
  • Lori Lightfoot, former President of the Chicago Police Board
  • Garry McCarthy, former Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department
  • Susana Mendoza, Illinois Comptroller, former City Clerk of Chicago and member of the Illinois House of Representatives
  • Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and former Alderwoman from Chicago’s 4th Ward.
  • Paul Vallas, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools
  • Willie Wilson, businessman

It’s okay to be overwhelmed. Luckily, looking at traditional metrics for campaign success winnows down the field:


About half the field has raised over a million dollars, and two candidates  Daley and Preckwinkle — have managed to set themselves far above everyone else. Interestingly, Daley’s received numerous high-level donations, and Preckwinkle had a series fundraising-related scandals.

Money’s only one factor, though. Here’s what the polls say:


Unfortunately, the polling for this election is pretty scarce, and the surveys we do have aren’t of the highest caliber, to put it nicely. This, coupled with the fact that primary polling of a smaller area is usually pretty poor, means that we can’t glean much from them.

Yet, a few unifying trends exist among both points: candidates like Bill Daley, Toni Preckwinkle, and Sunsana Mendoza appear to be in good positions heading into the home stretch. This also appears to largely be the consensus among traditional analysts, pundits, and debate watchers.

That said, the winner will likely not be known until April’s runoff. Nevertheless, as Chicagoans go to the polls to vote on issues like pensions and police reform, the candidates that appeal to these issues will probably be a boost.

That’s a discussion for a different day, though.

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