Polls Open In Historic Runoff Election For Chicago Mayor

Voting Tuesday at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center at 4740 N. Western Ave. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Voting Tuesday at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center at 4740 N. Western Ave. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Polls Open In Historic Runoff Election For Chicago Mayor

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Updated at 2:16 p.m.

Chicago voters are heading to the polls Tuesday for a runoff election that will produce the city’s first black woman in the mayor’s office. 

Voters are choosing between former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who were the top vote-getters in a 14-person general election in February. One of the two women will succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who didn’t seek re-election. 

The 56-year-old Lightfoot has never held elected office. She’s openly gay and calls herself “a different kind of Democrat” who wants to end the old ways of doing things. 

The 72-year-old Preckwinkle is a former school teacher who served on the Chicago City Council for 19 years before becoming Cook County Board president. She also heads the county’s Democratic Party. 

At Cosmopolitan Community Church, a polling place in the Washington Park neighborhood on the South Side, turnout was lower than in the general election. Seventy-eight people had voted as of about 10:30 a.m.  

Gloria Ford said she was excited about the history-making election. “Whichever one wins, I’m expecting a lot from them,” she said.

Ford said reinvestment in communities is the main issue driving her interest in the election. “There’s lack of everything” in her neighborhood, she said. 

Deborah Williams said the South Side needs affordable housing and jobs, and those are issues that motivated her to vote. Williams said it did not matter to her to have Chicago’s first black female mayor if that person doesn’t bring change to the city. 

“It don’t mean nothing to me if they don’t do nothing. We need changes in the neighborhood,” she said. 

At the polling place at Charles S. Brownell Elementary School in the 6th Ward, turnout appeared to be lower compared with the prior election. By noon, about 120 people had cast their votes at the school in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side.

Judges and poll workers said they believed most people coming to vote were there for the mayor’s race, not the runoff between incumbent Ald. Roderick Sawyer and challenger Deborah Foster-Bonner.

Nathan Handy said he was focused on the race for mayor, and he hopes the winner delivers on campaign promises.

“The struggle is one thing to get in, the question is what are you gonna do?” Handy said. “Can you live up to the hype or to the expectations?”

In the Ravenswood neighborhood on the North Side, Erin Vogel cast her vote at Philadelphia Romanian Church. 

“It was a tough one this year,” Vogel said of the mayoral election. “I felt like I was choosing between someone who might have been closer to police corruption or someone that’s closer to the system and political corruption and city corruption.” 

Vogel appeared to be comparing Lightfoot, who was president of the Chicago Police Board that reviews alleged police conduct and ran the Police Accountability Task Force created by Emanuel, with Preckwinkle, who is a veteran of Democratic politics in Chicago. 

At more than 800 polling places across the city, 1,500 Chicago high school students are serving as election judges. These students, some of whom can’t vote yet, help other judges set up ballot boxes, report vote tallies at the end of the day and assist with other tasks.

“It’s really empowering,” said Mohammad Saaduddin, a junior at Von Steuben High School, and a judge in the North Side’s 39th Ward. “I am actually participating in something that has an effect, like you are part of something bigger.”

Saaduddin and other high school judges are with Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit group that promotes civic engagement among teens. The organization has partnered with the Chicago Board of Elections for the last 20 years to recruit and train high school students to help on Election Day.

Polls are open until 7 p.m. 

Voters also are electing a city treasurer: Melissa Conyears-Ervin or Ameya Pawar. And voters in 15 wards are choosing their next City Council alderman in runoff elections.

Here’s everything you need to know to vote Tuesday, including where your polling place is and same-day registration.

WBEZ will have complete results and analysis from across the city on air and online, starting at 7 p.m. 

WBEZ criminal justice reporter Patrick Smith, education reporter Adriana Cardona-Maguigad and intern Marley Arechiga contributed.