Skip to main content

WBEZ News

Chicago’s Race For Mayor A Game Of Musical Chairs

There’s a wild game of political musical chairs happening in Chicago this week — set in motion by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprising announcement that he would not seek a third term.

But as the music stops and starts, longtime officeholders and up-and-comer politicians are dropping out or scrambling for a chair. 

Here’s a look at who’s still in the game and who’s watching from the sidelines.

Gutierrez Out, Wants Garcia In

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, announced on Wednesday that he would not run for mayor in 2019. But he wants the city to elect current Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. 

“I assure you that Chuy is going to circulate petitions to get on the ballot or I will,” Gutierrez said, noting that Garcia still needs some convincing. 

Garcia ran for mayor in 2015 and took Emanuel into the city’s first mayoral runoff since it switched to nonpartisan races. He was notably absent from the Cook County Board meeting today, but later released a statement through a spokesman.

“Calls and messages have been coming in from people all over the city urging me to run, including Congressman Gutierrez,” he wrote. “As I take a closer look at the Mayor’s race I will continue to dialogue with Chicagoans from across our great city to talk about solutions that will both unify us and improve everyone’s quality of life.”

Garcia is currently running unopposed for Gutierrez’s congressional seat representing most of Chicago’s majority Latino neighborhoods, which are gerrymandered into a single district. Gutierrez held that post for the last 26 years before announcing his retirement late last year and dubbing Garcia as his successor. 

At the time, there was speculation of a backroom deal among Gutierrez, Garcia, and Emanuel. Gutierrez endorsed Emanuel early in 2015, a position he said he regrets. 

Gutierrez also cited his daughter Jessica’s campaign for alderman of the 30th Ward on the Northwest Side as a reason for not jumping into the mayor’s race. Jessica Gutierrez is challenging incumbent Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward), who is an Emanuel ally. 

Preckwinkle still undecided

All eyes are still watching Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was recently elevated to chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Though the position isn’t as clouted as it once was, Cook County is one of the largest Democratic counties in the nation. Preckwinkle confirmed today that she’s circulating petitions to run for mayor, but she would only say she’s “interested” in the job.

“I’ve served the city and the county together for more than a quarter of a century,” Preckwinkle said after running a county board meeting. “Nineteen of them as alderman and almost eight as county board president. I believe that experience gives me a unique understanding of the issues and challenges that our region faces.”

If Preckwinkle jumps into the mayoral race and wins, her successor would be a county commissioner. But it’s not clear who yet. All county board seats are up for election in November. Afterwards, commissioners choose new leaders for various committees, including Preckwinkle’s second-in-command, known as the president pro-tem. 

Should Preckwinkle become mayor, the president pro-tem would take over until the next general election, said Laura Lechowicz Felicione, special legal counsel to Preckwinkle. That could be as soon as next April or as late as November 2020. Then, voters would elect one of the county commissioners to fill the remainder of Preckwinkle’s term. Her third term begins after the November election.

Preckwinkle is considered a strong challenger for the mayoral slot because of her time as alderman, her executive position over the county, and her strong ties to organized labor. The new president of the Chicago Federation of Labor Robert Reiter is a close friend.

Summers Launches Website, Exploring Run?

City Treasurer Kurt Summers launched a website on Monday, called Our Chicago, as a “place for you to share your thoughts for how we shape the future of our city.” 

Summers is up for re-election as treasurer, but hasn’t yet said if he plans to run again. The website indicates the South Side native is trying to reach out to a broad voter base. He has been promoting the hashtag #ourchicago on Twitter. The tweets summarize feedback from voters across the city. 

Summers has ties to many of the city’s top Democrats, and he was the first prominent African-American politician to back Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker. Before his time overseeing the city’s pension funds, he served as chief of staff to Preckwinkle and lead the 2016 Olympic bid committee assembled by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Before that, he worked at Grosvenor Capital Management, the firm led by Emanuel ally and top campaign donor Michael Sacks. He also touts on his campaign website that his grandfather, Sam Patch, served in Mayor Harold Washington’s administration. 

Mendoza: Don’t Ask… Yet

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for mayor. The former Chicago city clerk is also up for re-election to her comptroller post in November. She faces Republican Darlene Senger, a former state representative.

At this weekend’s Mexican Independence Parade in Little Village, Mendoza told reporters not to even ask about her running for mayor until after November. She would likely not even begin circulating petitions until after the Nov. 6 midterm election. That would give her less than a month to collect the 12,500 signatures required to get on the ballot. But she has a strong coalition of supporters, including Latinos, women, and labor, which could help her gather the necessary paperwork to run.

Let’s Not Forget...

Remember the dozen people who were already in full campaign mode before Emanuel made his announcement? There were 11 people aiming to unseat the mayor, and all are still in the mix. 

Here is a quick list, in alphabetical order, of those who have formally declared: Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, policy consultant and organizer Amara Enyia, activist Ja’Mal Green, tech entrepreneur Neal Sales Griffin, businessman Jeremiah Joyce Jr., attorney John Kozlar, former public school principal Troy LaRaviere, former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, and businessman Willie Wilson.

Wilson held a press conference at the same time as Gutierrez on Wednesday to tout the number of signatures he’s collected so far. He says he’s at 51,000, well over the 12,500 needed to get on the ballot. 

“The press has been pushing about a lot of people who we know won’t even be able to file (paperwork for mayor),” said Scott Winslow, Wilson’s campaign spokesman. “This (51,000 signatures) shows his support in the community.”

His team said they hope to get over 100,000 signatures, a record set by former Mayor Harold Washington. This matters because a person’s signature only counts once, and if someone signs for more than one candidate, only the first one counts. There are about 2.7 million residents in the city of Chicago.


Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X