No question, the biggest conversation driver in the February 28 municipal contests is the unwieldy scrum for mayor. But once voters have waded through that, they’ll find more action downballot. As we head into an election with a new ward map, nearly one-third of the 50 City Council members are stepping down, and only five incumbents running unopposed, making for lively races. Here’s a peek at six top contests.

1st Ward: Can a Scofflaw Make a Comeback?

Incumbent Daniel La Spata faces two notable opponents in his bid for a second term in this Logan Square/Wicker Park district. The man who lost the seat in 2019, the troubled Proco “Joe” Moreno, is aiming for a comeback after pleading guilty to two felonies, serving probation, and getting treatment for alcohol addiction. (He loaned his Audi to an ex, then made an insurance claim after reporting it stolen; out on bail, he got a DUI. Whoops!) Also in the mix is attorney Sam Royko. Last name sound familiar? He’s the son of Pulitzer-winning muckraker and Chicago legend Mike Royko.

6th Ward: 13 Try to Succeed a Mayor’s Son

Keeping up the Chicago tradition of dynastic rule, three-term alderman Roderick Sawyer is giving up his seat to try to follow in the footsteps of his father, mayor-for-17-months Eugene Sawyer. Vying to replace him in the Englewood/Chatham district are 13 candidates, the second-biggest field in these chaotic aldermanic races. Among them: Paul Bryson, a streets and sanitation superintendent and Rod Sawyer staffer; Barbara Bunville, a therapist and Chicago police officer; and cop-turned-pastor Richard Wooten, making his fourth (!) bid for this office.

11th Ward: Forget It, Rivals, This Is Chinatown

In this remapped ward centered on Chinatown, the city finally has its first Asian American–majority district. But the incumbent has never faced voters: Nicole Lee, a former United Airlines exec, was appointed last March after Alderman Patrick Daley Thompson was convicted of tax fraud. (Lee’s father — Gene Lee, an aide to former mayor Richard M. Daley — himself pleaded guilty in 2014 to embezzling from charities.) With a field splintered by six opponents, the outlook seems promising for the first Chinese American council member to keep her seat.

14th Ward: A Chip Off the Old Burke?

After more than half a century on the City Council, Ed Burke leaves a political vacuum on the Southwest Side as he retires. (Not unrelated, he faces charges of racketeering, bribery, and extortion — the triple crown of corrupt Chicago politics.) But his influence might not be gone: A two-person proxy war is emerging in the ward, now more than four-fifths Latino. Raul Reyes, who works for the city clerk’s office, has ties to Burke; his opponent, county employee Jeylu Gutiérrez, has the backing of U.S. representative and mayoral hopeful Jesús “Chuy” García.

30th Ward: Return of the Congressman’s Daughter

Ariel Reboyras is retiring after 20 years, a decision that’s led to a six-way race to replace him in this Latino-majority ward on the Northwest Side. One contender is Ruth Cruz, a Reboyras ally and Roosevelt University admissions officer. But Cruz can expect a tough time from Jessica Gutiérrez, daughter of former U.S. representative Luis Gutiérrez, who forced Reboyras into a runoff in 2019.

46th Ward: Uptown Makes a Left Turn

After serving three terms, James Cappleman is retiring as boss of this Uptown ward, leaving six candidates on theoretically equal footing. Given the area’s liberal tilt, it’s no surprise to find candidates with strong progressive credentials among the wide-open field. They include Marianne Lalonde, a scientist and environmental activist who four years ago lost a runoff to Cappleman by a mere 25 votes; Kim Walz, a former aide to U.S. representative Mike Quigley; and affordable housing organizer and democratic socialist Angela Clay, who also ran for the seat in 2019.