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Even with a low voter turnout (33 percent), last Tuesday’s municipal election showed the power of the ballot box while candidates and political pundits scurried to re-examine their positions on the issues and the power brokers respectively.  Voters forced an historic runoff election between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. In addition, this outcome was accompanied by the largest number of runoff elections for aldermen in the city since 1947.

While aldermanic runoff elections typically do not result in large turnouts at the polls, because the April 7 election will have the two mayoral candidates at the top of the ballot, observers are betting that this first time mayoral runoff in the history of the city will reverse the previous low voter turnout to a record high.

With less than six weeks remaining for campaigning, aldermanic candidates are reassessing their approaches and pitches to the voters in their wards. Interestingly, some candidates for alderman, including incumbents like Deborah L. Mell (33) who was appointed to that seat by the mayor after her father Dick Mell retired from City Council, sensed the discontent with Mayor Emanuel in their wards. In the closing days prior to the election, these candidates —  led by Mell — removed the mayor’s name from their campaign materials. According to University of Illinois political scientist and City Council watcher Dick Simpson, since Emanuel has been mayor, the council members as a whole have voted with him on average 91 percent of the time. This includes eight members who have voted 100 percent of the time with him in the same period. The 100 percenters are Michelle Harris (8), John A. Pope (10), Marty Quinn (13), Howard Brookins, Jr. (21), Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Deborah L. Graham (29), Deborah L. Mell (33) and Margaret Laurino (39). Of these 100 percenters, Pope gained 44.1 percent and will face Susan Garcia with 24 percent; Howard Brookins (21) gained 41.7 percent and will face Marvin McNell with 14.1 percent; Deborah L. Graham (29) gained 40 percent and will face Chris Tallaferro with 22.5 percent; and Deborah L. Mell gained 49.7 percent and will face Tim Meegan with 34.5 percent. (Please note that as of this writing, it is possible that Alderman Mell will not have to face a runoff if the remaining uncounted votes favor her due to the closeness of the percentages of the votes.)

Of the additional 10 candidates who are in a runoff, four are candidates that do not include incumbents because the incumbents did not run or they were completely eliminated in the election. In all of the runoff cases, there were on average four or more candidates running in each initial ward election. The four candidates who are in the runoffs with no incumbents are Brian Hopkins, 29.4 percent and Alyx S. Pattison, 24.4 percent (2) ; Patrick Daley Thompson, 47.1 percent and John Kozlar, 36 percent (11); Michael Scott, Jr., 31.1 percent and Vetress Boyce, 16.5 percent (24); and Omar Aquino, 35.7 percent and Gilbert Villegas, 32.7 percent (36). Somewhat surprising is the fact that incumbents Lona Lane (18), Willie Cochran (20), Emma Mitts (37) and Progressive Caucus member Toni L. Foulkes, formerly incumbent (15) and shifted to the 16th because of a redistricting error, all are now in runoffs.

According to activist Dane Tucker who is working in several aldermanic campaigns in cooperation with the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), one of his biggest defeats was in the 10th ward where he and CTU volunteers pushed incumbent John Pope into a runoff with Susan Garcia.  A teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, Garcia is supported by the CTU while her opponent Pope is supported by Mayor Emanuel and his political action committee (PAC). Some analysts have characterized this runoff battle as one that pits the CTU, community activists and some unions against the millions of dollars in the campaign coffers of Mayor Emanuel, his millionaire donors and some major construction unions. This battle has been characterized as one that can potentially change the tone and tenor of City Hall, including the City Council and the Mayor’s office. Regardless of who wins the mayoral runoff, it is clear that the majority of the voters in this city have sent a clear message to City Hall that they want to see real changes in the way in which business is conducted.

Pre- and post-election surveys and interviews of ward residents have shown that voters want their representatives in City Council to be more analytical and more careful of supporting any mayor’s priorities without obtaining a clear understanding and sense of direction from the various wards’ constituents. These constituents want a moratorium on the closure of public schools and the opening of new charter schools. They want some quick and certain action on the speed and red light cameras. They want immediate action and reform of the manner in which TIF funds are accumulated and spent.

At this printing we are not certain as to how all of these runoff aldermanic candidates will line up behind the two candidates who are running for mayor. However, we have been informed that both Chuy Garcia and Rahm Emanuel are in hastened negotiations with all of these candidates to gain their support. The election war is on in the City of Chicago and it will come to a head on April 7.

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