Race for mayor: Who benefits most if candidates are bounced?

December 14, 2010

The biggest fight yet in the 2011 Chicago Mayoral Ballot Battle begins today.  That's when the Chicago Board of Elections will hold a hearing regarding the residency status of candidate Rahm Emanuel.  At issue is whether Emanuel should be allowed a spot on the ballot in the 2011 mayoral race because he wasn't living in Chicago for one year prior to the election, as the law requires.

And while  few campaigns are actively involved in the Emanuel challenge, you can be sure nearly all of them are keeping a very close eye on the proceedings.  While they may or may not agree with the substance of the challenge, as the current front-runner in the race, the road to the Fifth Floor of City Hall gets a lot easier without Emanuel in the way.

Indeed, deciding whether to pursue a ballot challenge can be a complicated political calculation. One must consider both the benefits of mounting a challenge and winning - and the potential costs of mounting a challenge and losing.  Either way, resources are drained and potential alliances are strained.  And woe is the candidate who mounts an unsuccessful challenge to the eventual winner.  You can kiss whatever leverage or clout you had good-bye.

A crowded field also helps some candidates.  Rahm Emanuel, for one, benefits from the high number of prominent African American candidates in the race.  Better to have them split the vote rather than face one strong contender. 

Others harbor their secret desires, even if they choose not to act on them.

It's worth noting that while Emanuel is getting all the attention these days for his residency status, he's hardly the only big-name candidate facing a petition challenge.  Others facing challenges include  Roland Burris, Wilfredo de Jesus, Carol Moseley-Braun, and James Meeks.

So who would benefit most if any of these candidates were bounced? 

As a little thought experiment - and political parlor game - we offer the following analysis for the leading candidates:

Roland Burris:  Carol Moseley-Braun, Danny Davis, James Meeks

Carol Moseley-Braun:  Roland Burris, Gery Chico, Danny Davis, James Meeks

Wilfredo de Jesus: Miguel del Valle

Rahm Emanuel:  All

James Meeks:  Carol Moseley Braun, Gery Chico, Danny Davis

Note that Gary Chico, Danny Davis and Miguel Del Valle are the only top tier candidates not facing any petition challenges.

Hearings on the others are underway - and it should be noted that  most observers expect  these candidates to secure spots on the February 22nd ballot. 

But thinking about the "wish list" can be a useful exercise for understanding the campaign ahead and how the candidates will try to position themselves amidst a large, diverse and competitive field.

 

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story didn't clearly articulate the nature of the ballot objection to Rahm Emanuel's candidacy for mayor.  The first paragraph was edited to clarify and make that distinction.