These are the Illinois 2024 primary races to watch

From the hotly contested Cook County state’s attorney race to a referendum in Chicago on money for the homeless, here are the important local decisions on your ballot.

graphic with donkey and elephant
Illustration Andjela Padejski / WBEZ
Illustration Andjela Padejski / WBEZ
graphic with donkey and elephant
Illustration Andjela Padejski / WBEZ

These are the Illinois 2024 primary races to watch

From the hotly contested Cook County state’s attorney race to a referendum in Chicago on money for the homeless, here are the important local decisions on your ballot.

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An open race for the next Cook County state’s attorney after incumbent Kim Foxx decided not to seek reelection. A conservative incumbent U.S. representative in a reliably red district facing a challenge from within his party. A referendum that would allow the Chicago City Council to raise a tax on high-end property transfers to pay for programs to prevent homelessness — these are some of the hottest local races on Illinois’ primary ballot.

In addition to the U.S. presidential primary, voters in some areas will get to choose candidates for Cook County circuit clerk, the Illinois Legislature, U.S. Congress and a suburban county commissioner seat vacated when Brandon Johnson became Chicago mayor, as well as a slew of other representatives.

WBEZ and the Chicago Sun-Times will be following the major races and referendum questions through the election, so check back for updates through the March 19 primary.

Here’s more on the top local races and issues voters will be considering:

Bring Chicago Home Referendum

Cook County State’s Attorney

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Cook County Commissioner for the 1st District

4th Congressional

7th Congressional

11th Congressional

12th Congressional

Illinois Supreme Court

Bring Home Chicago illustration


What is this referendum for?

The aim of the ballot question is to create a dedicated funding stream for homelessness prevention. The money would come from increasing a one-time tax on the sale of high-end properties in Chicago. Voters will be asked if they want to change what’s currently a flat tax rate to a tiered one. The change will include a tax cut for properties valued under $1 million, and tax increases for those over $1 million — with the rate increasing to four times the current rate for the highest tier. Supporters estimate the tax will bring in at least $100 million annually in revenue, although how much will be influenced by how hot the real estate market is. You may have heard this described as a “mansion tax,” but it will apply to all property sales, not just residential ones. 

(Here’s an FAQ on the referendum for more information.)

Why is this important?

This could have big implications for how the city is able to fund homelessness prevention. Advocates have been trying for years to put the question on the ballot and were finally successful with the help of a more progressive City Council and friendly mayor who has made the tax increase a priority. Groups supporting the referendum question include the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, SEIU Healthcare of Illinois and Indiana, and United Working Families. They argue the city needs a funding source that can be exclusively used to tackle the rising numbers of people experiencing homelessness and that taxing the wealthy helps ensure they pay their fair share.

But real estate and development groups, including Illinois Realtors and the Building Owner and Managers Association of Chicago, are in staunch opposition. They assert the tax will hurt the commercial real estate industry at a time when downtown Chicago has still been recovering high vacancy rates and that a drop in downtown buildings’ value will lead to increases in residential property taxes throughout the city. Both sides have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars as they gear up. 

(Here’s an in-depth look at the campaigns for and against the referendum.)

What else do I need to know?

A Cook County judge ruled that the referendum is invalid, siding with the business and real estate groups that sued to block the ballot question. Even though the referendum remains on the ballot, the judge’s order mandates that the results of the question not be tallied. But the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and the city are appealing that decision. In the meantime, both opponents and supporters of the referendum are asking voters to still weigh in on the matter when they cast their ballots in case the Cook County judge’s decision is reversed.

The last time voters weighed in on a proposed tax increase, it was at the state level in the bitter and expensive battle over a graduated income tax. While that’s a completely separate tax policy from the real estate transfer tax, proponents of both tout them as ways to “make the rich pay their fair share.” That tax failed statewide, but in Chicago, most voters were supportive of the graduated income tax with more than 71% voting “yes.”

Cook County States Attorney
Who is running?

It’s been nearly a year since Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced she would not seek reelection. Despite the lack of an incumbent in the race, there is a relatively small pool of candidates vying to be Cook County’s next top prosecutor. In the Democratic primary, Clayton Harris III, a public policy professor and former prosecutor, is the county Democratic Party’s pick to replace Foxx. Former prosecutor and Illinois appellate judge Eileen O’Neill Burke is running against Harris on the Democratic side and is leading Harris in fundraising. Four years ago, former Chicago Ald. Bob Fioretti ran for state’s attorney as a Democrat. But this time he’s running unopposed in the Republican primary. A Republican hasn’t won the general election for Cook County state’s attorney since 1992. Attorney Andrew Charles Kopinski, a Libertarian, is also running.

Why is this important?

Almost all the most pressing criminal justice issues in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs touch the state’s attorney’s office. The prosecutor is in charge of securing convictions for shootings, murders and other crimes. And because of Cook County’s size, the charging decisions by prosecutors in the office have a major impact on the size of Illinois’ prison population. The office also offers a unique perspective and platform for affecting policy in the county and statewide. Foxx was a major part of the push to end cash bail in Illinois, a controversial change still being worked out. Whoever succeeds Foxx will have a major role in shaping what Cook County courts look like without bail.

What else do I need to know?

Perhaps most surprising about the race so far is how little Foxx has factored in the Democratic primary. Foxx had been the subject of near-constant conversation and criticism during her two terms in office, but she has receded into the background since announcing she would not seek reelection. Despite Foxx’s wide margins of victory in previous elections, neither Harris nor O’Neill Burke have declared themselves torchbearers for Foxx’s legacy, nor has either attempted to stake a position of opposition to the controversial prosecutor.

O’Neill Burke is pitching herself, however, as the tough-on-crime prosecutor, “aiming for voters unhappy with Foxx’s leadership and convinced the county needs to pursue a more traditional approach to prosecutions in order to combat crime,” as WBEZ reporters Anna Savchenko and Chip Mitchell reported in a profile about her candidacy.

A month from Election Day, Harris said he doesn’t have to choose — and neither do voters — between Foxx’s progressive policies and a safer county. Still, Harris told WBEZ he intended to “chart [his] own course in this office.”

Perhaps most indicative of the differences between the two candidates, Harris said he will continue a controversial policy of Foxx’s not to prosecute retail theft as a felony unless the value of the stolen goods is over $1,000; O’Neill Burke is pledging to go back to following state law — which sets the felony threshold at $300, WBEZ’s Mike Puente and Chip Mitchell reported.

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Who is running?

Incumbent first-term Clerk Iris Martinez, previously a staple in Illinois state politics, is up against challenger Mariyana Spyropoulos. Spyropoulos is an attorney and a longtime commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Spyropoulos has amassed dozens of endorsements, including from the Cook County Democratic Party, and far more in her campaign war chest (including $500,000 from herself) compared to Martinez. “Citizens for Mariyana Spyropoulos” had about $267,000 as of Dec. 31, compared to about $48,000 in the “Iris for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk” fund, state campaign finance records show. Even more has poured into both campaigns since then.

Lupe Aguirre, who has run unsuccessfully for several county offices in the past, is running as a Republican, and Michael Murphy is running as a Libertarian.

Why is this important?

Ever get a traffic ticket, a divorce, commit a crime? Despite what can seem like a wonky, overwhelming system, the courts can affect your life. And the clerk’s role is essential to a functional system. This person oversees the vast volume of case files and documents for one of the largest local court systems in the U.S. — on paper and online. The push to modernize the court system is ongoing even in 2024.

What else do I need to know?

While Spyropoulos’s campaign has picked up numerous influential endorsements, Martinez has won before without major backing. She was the first Latina in the state Senate who eventually rose to become assistant majority leader — and went on to win in 2020 without the coveted backing of the Democratic Party. Cook County Democratic Party leader Toni Preckwinkle told WBEZ’s Kristen Schorsch that Martinez’ lack of support of subsequent Democratic party picks over the past several years is partly why the party isn’t supporting her now.

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Who is running?

Commissioner Tara Stamps was appointed to the seat last summer after then-Commissioner Brandon Johnson was elected Chicago’s next mayor. She is running to fill the remainder of Johnson’s term through 2026 and is up against Zerlina Smith-Members, a perennial candidate, victim advocate and political consultant. James Humay is also running, as a Libertarian.

Why is this important?

The district covers the West Side of the city and western suburbs, including Oak Park. Stamps is a former longtime Chicago Public Schools teacher and currently works for the Chicago Teachers Union, which helped fuel fellow CTU organizer Brandon Johnson’s meteoric rise to become mayor. In other words, Stamps has some influential support, while Smith-Members is largely self-funding her campaign with $160,000, according to state campaign finance records.

What else do I need to know?

Watch to see if the CTU scores another victory to help elect allies and their own to public office.

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Who is running?

U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García is seeking a fourth term to represent Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, an office he has held since 2019. His sole challenger is Ald. Raymond Lopez, who represents the Southwest Side’s 15th Ward in Chicago’s City Council and previously ran for the 4th Congressional District before dropping out in 2018. The two were both part of the crowded Chicago mayoral race last year, with Lopez dropping out early on to run for reelection as alderman and García failing to make the runoff election after finishing fourth.

Why is this important?

The 4th Congressional District, which stretches across the Southwest Side and western suburbs, has more Latinos than any other in Illinois and who wins could signal which wing of the Democratic Party the district is swaying toward. While both Democrats, García and Lopez are on different ends of the political spectrum. García is a longtime progressive politician who has secured the endorsements of prominent labor groups this election, while Lopez is one of the more conservative members of the City Council and a frequent critic of Mayor Brandon Johnson. For example, they are divided on the response to Gaza: Garcia co-sponsored a resolution in Congress calling for a cease-fire; Lopez voted against the cease-fire resolution recently passed by the City Council..

What else do I need to know?

Lopez trails García in fundraising, with a little over $46,000 raised through the end of last year compared to García’s nearly $376,000.

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Who is running?

Democratic incumbent Rep. Danny Davis, 82, is vying to hold onto his near three-decade grip on Illinois’ 7th District. But the 14-term incumbent faces a challenge from four other Democrats in this hotly contested primary election. Two are political newcomers: Kouri Marshall, a former deputy director for Gov. JB Pritzker, and Nikhil Bhatia, an educator and former principal. Another, community organizer Kina Collins, is not new to campaigning nor to challenging Davis. In 2022, Collins came within 6 percentage points of ousting Davis in the primary. City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, an established politician, is challenging Davis, too. Conyears-Ervin has served as treasurer since 2019 and previously served as an Illinois state representative. The 7th Congressional District is heavily Democratic. The lone Republican candidate, Chad Koppie, is a farmer who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2022.

Why is this important?

The race is a choice between a veteran incumbent with a reliably Democratic voting record and a political newbie with a vision of a more left-leaning Democratic Party. Collins is challenging Davis for the third time and thinks the progressive base she has built in the 7th District will finally propel her to office. But her viability is complicated by Conyears-Ervin’s entrance. Conyears-Ervin is a top fundraiser in the race and, unlike Collins, has a governing track record (albeit a controversial one — see below).

What else do I need to know?

Both Conyears-Ervin and Davis are dogged by ethics complaints. Chicago Inspector General Deborah Witzburg determined late last year that Conyears-Ervin violated the city’s ethics ordinance when she fired two employees who complained about her using city resources for a prayer service. Davis is under fire for allegedly spending funds from his office to benefit his congressional campaign, according to a complaint filed with the House Ethics Committee.

The primary comes at a time when age in politics is in the spotlight, and challengers are questioning Davis’s decision to run again. Davis is one of 15 octogenarians in the House, and 11 of them are Democrats, Erin Covey, a U.S. House of Representatives analyst for the Cook Political Report told WBEZ’s Mariah Woelfel. Several of them are running for reelection, including Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer.

The 7th District is politically and racially diverse, and a successful candidate will have to appeal to larger swaths of voters, Covey told WBEZ.

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Who is running?

Seven-term Democratic Rep. Bill Foster faces a primary against Naperville resident Qasim Rashid, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress and the state Senate in Virginia in successive years. Republicans Susan Hathaway-Altman and Jerry Evans, both unsuccessful candidates from the 2022 11th Congressional District Republican primary, and O Kent Mercado square off on the GOP side. Hathaway-Altman has racked up key GOP endorsements in the district, including from Republican state Sens. Dave Syverson and Don DeWitte.

Why is this important?

Geographically, Foster represents one of the largest congressional districts overlaying Chicago’s collar counties, touching parts of Naperville, Aurora and Bolingbrook in the far southwestern suburbs, Geneva and St. Charles in the far western suburbs, and McHenry and Woodstock in the far northwestern suburbs. This district reaches as far west as Belvidere, near Rockford.

What else do I need to know?

With significant labor backing, Foster is aiming to capitalize on the reopening of the shuttered Stellantis auto plant in Belvidere. That was a byproduct of a new contract with the United Auto Workers that represented a big political win for President Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats who supported the union in its strike against Stellantis. During Foster’s political career, his only roadbump came in 2010, when he lost reelection in the old 14th Congressional District once held by former Republican U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. But since then, Foster has been political gold, defeating Republican Catalina Lauf, an acolyte of former President Donald Trump, by double digits in 2022. 

With $1.6 million in the bank as of the end of 2023, according to federal campaign records, Foster has a bigger political war chest than his four potential challengers combined, WBEZ’s Dave McKinney reports. In another byproduct of incumbency, he has sewn up endorsements from a who’s who of Illinois Democrats and prominent labor groups.

Absent a Republican landslide this fall, Foster should be safe again. Congressional handicappers like The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter and the Sabato Crystal Ball don’t include Foster’s race in their lists of competitive U.S. House seats in the 2024 congressional cycle.

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Who is running?

One of the state’s most conservative districts features a Republican primary with two men who were both endorsed by Donald Trump two years ago. Mike Bost, the incumbent, is seeking his sixth term in office. He sits on three committees and chairs the House Veterans Affairs. Bost is staunchly conservative and has strong views on abortion rights, immigration and the Second Amendment. So does his opponent, Darren Bailey, a former state lawmaker who dominated the state’s 2022 Republican primary for governor but lost badly to Democrat JB Pritzker in the general election. There are two Democrats also on the ballot — entrepreneur Preston Nelson of Lebanon and attorney Brian Roberts of Carbondale.

Why is this important?

The Bost-Bailey race is indicative of the current split in the Republican party. Bost calls himself a “governing conservative” – someone who gets things done, but doesn’t compromise conservative values to do it. Bost says he has formed a good working relationship with members of both parties, and he uses that cross-aisle experience to get things done for his district — focusing on agriculture, veterans and infrastructure needs. Bailey chuckled at the term “governing conservative,” saying that’s just another word for compromise. He says he’s not interested in compromising his conservative values.

What else do I need to know?

Bost received endorsements from multiple wings of the party, from the more moderate former Speaker Kevin McCarthy to Jim Jordan, the first chair of the far-right Freedom Caucus. He has also lined up endorsements from farmers, veterans and first responders in the district. Bost also received former president Donald Trump’s nod in February.

Bailey is backed by Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois — another staunch conservative who unseated the more moderate Rodney Davis in the new 15th District two years ago. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida also backs Bailey. Bost outraised Bailey 6-to-1 last year — $1.8 million to $311,000. Bost’s support came from a variety of sources: conservative political action committees, corporations and individuals. Bailey’s money came mostly from individual contributions.

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Illinois Supreme Court

Who’s running?

In the First District, which covers Cook County, Democratic Justice Joy Cunningham looks to hold onto her seat on the state’s highest court as she faces a primary challenge from Appellate Judge Jesse Reyes. This is the only contested Illinois Supreme Court race.

Why is this important?

Across the country, state supreme courts continue to rule on a number of important national issues, which have been kicked back to the states, including abortion and Second Amendment rights. While the Democrats will likely maintain their 5-2 majority on Illinois’ Supreme Court, it is still important for voters to consider who sits on the bench.

What else do I need to know?

Justice Joy Cunningham was appointed to the position in 2022, following the retirement of Chief Justice Anne Burke. Cunningham became the second Black woman to serve on the state’s supreme court but says she does not appreciate how the issue of race has been “injected” into this primary race. Her opponent, Judge Jesse Reyes, hopes to become the court’s first Latino justice. Reyes argues it’s time for Latino representation on the court, noting Latinos now make up over a quarter of Cook County’s population.

Cook county board of review commissioner

Who’s running?

Personal-injury lawyer Larry Rogers Jr. – the longest-serving member of the three Board of Review commissioners – is seeking a sixth four-year term representing Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs. Rogers is being challenged by Larecia Tucker, a real estate agent and Rich Township official from Chicago Heights, in the Democratic primary.

Why is this important?

The Board of Review has the power to reduce the taxes of any property owner who appeals their assessment. That includes homeowners who represent themselves as well as big property owners who hire attorneys from firms that specialize in appealing assessments. The three commissioners recently split over how much the Chicago Bears should pay in taxes for the Arlington Park site where the football team is considering building a new stadium.

What else do I need to know?

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi has feuded with Rogers for years and is supporting Tucker. Kaegi has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to a new political fund that’s supporting Tucker and attacking Rogers. Rogers says Kaegi’s involvement in the campaign threatens the independence of the agency that can overrule the assessor.But Rogers has faced criticism for the corruption convictions of employees and was fined by the county’s ethics board for representing clients with cases against the county. Tucker and Kaegi also noted that Rogers’ half-brother has represented clients appealing their assessments to the Board of Review.

WBEZ reporters Alex Degman, Dave McKinney, Kristen Schorsch, Tessa Weinberg, Mariah Woelfel and Dan Mihalopoulos and Chicago Sun-Times reporter Sophie Sherry contributed to this report. Photo illustrations by WBEZ’s Mendy Kong.