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Ask Chicago: Why Are City Elections Held in February?

It used to be in April. So what changed?

Mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (at left) gives a thumbs up to the media while submitting nominating petitions.   Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

Almost every other municipality in Illinois holds its mayoral election in April. Until 1999, Chicago did too. But with the dominance of the Democratic machine (the city has elected only one Republican mayor in the past century—the infamous “Big Bill” Thompson, who served three terms), the February primary became the de facto election. After the 1995 contest—in which Richard M. Daley’s Republican opponent, Ray Wardingley, was literally a part-time clown—the GOP cried uncle and pushed through a state bill to skip the primaries and move up the general election to save money for the candidates and the city. A runoff could occur in April if no candidate received more than half the vote, but it’s never happened.

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