In a nine-person field—and after years of COVID, crime, economic decline and other woes—anyone who says they know how this will turn out is smoking bad weed. If average Chicagoans and big business donors wake up to that reality—so far, my impression is that voters are not really engaged and business remains uncertain—this election will be one for the books.
Here’s what I see, and what to watch for:
Four years ago, if you’ll recall, a little-known lawyer named Lori Lightfoot caught a gust of public support when Ald. Ed Burke, 14th, was indicted on federal corruption charges and rumors exploded about the future of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Lightfoot’s vow to drain the swamp was exactly what voters wanted.
Instead, they got a mayor who has excelled in making enemies; someone who, whatever her legitimate claims to have moved Chicago in the direction of racial and economic equity, had to govern in the middle of a pandemic and a resulting crime wave her team has only begun to tame. That has put her solidly on the defense. And though she’s used her fundraising to burnish her reputation and go negative on Garcia, he still leads in most recent polls and much of her cash hoard is gone. At least as bad: In lakefront wards like the 44th and 43rd that should be friendly territory, her support is so weak that her appointed 43rd Ward Ald. Timmy Knudsen wouldn’t even endorse her at a candidate forum last week.
Will someone else join Lightfoot in trying to hobble Garcia? Will any Black candidates drop out? Will King, the only other woman on the ballot, come up short in raising the cash she needs to go on TV? Lightfoot could use some help on those.
Garcia has big name recognition but has been running a fairly quiet, cautious campaign so far.
That may not be enough. I’m told he’s reached out to prominent business figures, but none have gone public yet. And he still has yet to really explain why fallen crypto king Sam Bankman-Fried spent $200,000 on Garcia’s political behalf last year, or say whether his informal alliance with Madigan was real.
If I were Garcia, I’d be worried about who’s coming up on my left. That’s Johnson, who has quietly assembled a seven-figure war chest; has substantial precinct help from the same progressive army that elected Delia Ramirez to Congress; and is trying to supplant Garcia as the voice of a new generation of activists who want to squeeze the well-off and privileged until the working class—and the Chicago Teachers Union—are content.
Then there’s Wilson, whose base is low-income Black voters, but whose politics borrow a few pages from the Book of Trump. And Vallas, who is trying to prove his talents as a former schools chief and his mainstream ideology in a left-leaning city are what Chicago wants.
Wilson has been trying to peel off some of Vallas’ base in what used to be known as white ethnic wards on the Northwest and Southwest sides. Vallas needs to hold onto those while emphasizing his competence if he’s to pull votes elsewhere, especially on the North Side. His acceptance of an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police was a big gamble, but Vallas has been much more disciplined than usual this campaign.
Out of that morass, Chicago on Feb. 28 will chose two contenders to go to an April runoff. Four years ago, in a larger field, the top vote-getters finished the first round with 17.54% (for Lightfoot) and 16.05% (for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle) of the vote.
Like I said: wide open.
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January 23, 2023 at 06:55AM