Analysis: Reading The Tea Leaves Ahead Of Election Day | WBEZ
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Chicago Mayor’s Race Analysis: Reading The Tea Leaves Ahead Of Election Day

This year’s mayoral election promises to be one of the most interesting races in decades. 

A lot of the intrigue is due to the wide open field of 14 candidates, sporting unique histories and viewpoints. It seems like a foregone conclusion that none of them will get more than 50 percent of the votes and win the election outright. But it might also mean that the vote will split in so many ways that a relatively low share of the overall tally could be enough to secure a spot in the April 2 runoff election between the top two vote-getters. 

Essentially, every vote will matter.

And so there are numerous ways the outcome could break depending upon how well the candidates have connected with specific groups of voters in various parts of the city. Here are a number of things that we’ll be watching that may help determine the outcome.

Voter Turnout 

The percentage of registered voters who actually cast ballots can play an enormous role in any election. Some key questions: How high will it be? Where will it be strong? And where will it be weak?

Given the opportunity to elect a new mayor, turnout citywide is likely to be higher than normal. In three of the last four mayoral elections, dating back to 2003, citywide turnout ranged between 33 percent and 34 percent. But it was 42 percent in 2011 when the city prepared to elect someone other than Richard M. Daley for the first time in more than 20 years.

In addition, it’s important where turnout will be strongest. Chicago has seen wild variations in turnout between different parts of the city. In the February 2015 election, turnout was more than 52 percent in the Southwest Side’s 19th Ward, the city’s perennial turnout leader, but it was less than half that in four wards — the South Side’s 15th and 16th wards, the West Side’s 28th Ward and the Northwest Side’s 30th Ward.

Toni Preckwinkle, Lori Lightfoot and progressive Chicago

There’s no mistaking who Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has targeted the most in the closing days of this race. Her former aide’s Facebook gaffe was just the latest reminder. 

Former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot’s progressive stances on police accountability and other matters could pose a threat to Preckwinkle in the progressive wards where she’s been strongest. 

Those include the so-called “lakefront liberal” wards on the North Side (the 43rd, 44th, 46th, 48th and 49th Wards); other progressive wards on the North Side (the 32nd, 40th and 47th Wards); and a handful of South Side wards (the 4th and 5th). Those were the 10 strongest wards for Preckwinkle in the 2018 Democratic primary for Cook County Board president. Preckwinkle got more than 70 percent of the vote in each of those wards. ]

But Lightfoot’s campaign has gained steam in the last few weeks. With Lightfoot’s strong showing in a Telemundo Chicago/NBC 5 poll earlier this month, more than $1.6 million in contributions and endorsements from the Chicago Sun-Times and the chairman of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus, Preckwinkle may have cause for concern.

Bill Daley’s campaign money and federal experience

Daley, a former White House Chief of Staff and U.S. Commerce Secretary, has gotten a lot of love from high rollers like billionaire hedge fund exec Ken Griffin, who’s given $2 million all by himself. In all, Daley has received nearly $9 million. 

That kind of money — and his experience working for two presidents — can buy a lot of exposure and voter confidence, which can translate into votes from casual observers. That mixture certainly benefited outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel, who swooped in from Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2010, raised a ton of money and coasted to victory in February 2011 with 55 percent of the vote.

But Daley could have another liability with some voters: his last name, which voters may associate with his brother and father’s legacies, for better or for worse. 

Willie Wilson and black Chicago

Wilson may be a new name to most Chicagoans, but he’s got a long history with the city’s black church community. That connection helped Wilson earn nearly 11 percent of the vote in the February 2015 mayoral election. His strongest support came from black wards on the South and West Sides (the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 16th, 17th, 20th, 21st, 24th, 28th, 29th, 34th and 37th Wards) where he topped 20 percent. Could a similar showing with stronger turnout in a much more crowded field push him into a run-off?

Gery Chico, Susana Mendoza, Latino Chicago and city workers

Chico finished a distant second to Emanuel in February 2011, but his 24 percent tally in that race would be a strong showing in this year’s crowded field. Mendoza last won a municipal race in 2011 when she was elected city clerk. Both Chico and Mendoza were strongest in Southwest, Northwest and Southeast Side wards known for their Latino majorities or their heavy presence of city workers. They include the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 19th, 22nd, 23rd, 25th, 26th, 31st and 41st Wards. Capturing a fair share of votes in those wards could provide a pathway to a runoff for one of them.

Amara Enyia, the West Side and young voters

Enyia made a splash when she received the endorsement of rap superstar and Chicago native Chance the Rapper. And Enyia is a well-known commodity on the city’s West Side, where she’s focused much of her community activism. However, both young voters and West Siders have been sporadic participants in mayoral elections. Strong turnout from the West Side’s 28th and 29th Wards (and the collective 70,000 registered voters there) and among young voters across the city could give rise to a sleeping giant and surprise many on Tuesday night.

Alden Loury is the senior editor of WBEZ's race, class and communities desk. Follow him @AldenLoury.

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