At Chicago magazine, we don't endorse candidates for political office like the Tribune or Sun-Times. Even if we did, in this particular race, there are too many people running — in too diverse a city — for a one-candidate-fits-all prescription.
Instead, we’re offering a guide that will help you pick a candidate based on what you want for the city’s future. Unlike the daily newspapers, we won't tell you how to vote, but we'll hopefully help you make a decision on your own.
If you want to preserve Rahm’s legacy
Rahm Emanuel’s record of attracting business to Chicago is remarkable. We’ve been the number one city for corporate relocations for five years running. McDonald’s, Walgreens, ConAgra, and Caterpillar have all moved their headquarters to downtown Chicago. That has attracted workers who want to live near their offices, resulting in a residential boom in the Loop.
Under Rahm, Chicago was also named the No. 1 city in the Western Hemisphere for Direct Foreign Investment, bolstering our reputation as a global business hub.
Critics say that while Emanuel built up the Loop, he neglected the neighborhoods, allowing the city to turn into Manhattan grafted onto Detroit.
If you want more of that, Bill Daley is your man. He has a global business outlook, having earned $2.5 million a year as a managing partner of a Swiss hedge fund.
The city’s business community is uniting behind the idea of a third Mayor Daley. Ken Griffin, the richest man in Illinois, just gave Daley $1 million. The Tribune's editorial board just endorsed Daley, portraying him as a man who crawled from a Bridgeport bungalow to the top of a LaSalle Street tower, enabling him to speak Chicagoese to tavern dwellers and corporate-speak to out-of-town businessmen.
“Without a thriving economy, without more new businesses and new jobs, a city this challenged and ambitious will not continue to reinvent itself, will not be the vital destination it has been for two centuries … By 2023, Chicago will likely have tipped its future toward renewed prosperity or gentle decline.”
Got that? Only Bill Daley’s shoulders are big enough to carry Chicago for the next four years.
If you're sick of “two cities”
Suppose you don’t like the direction Chicago has been moving in for the last eight years. Suppose you think it’s turning into two cities, separate and unequal. The Loop is lavished with bike lanes and a new Riverwalk, while the South and West sides are stripped of schools and mental health clinics.
No candidate has spoken more about “equity” in distributing resources to all corners of the city than Amara Enyia, a community activist, consultant, and executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. As an aide to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Enyia became disillusioned with a development plan that focused on building up the Loop with the assumption that its prosperity would trickle outward.
Enyia wants to increase direct city investment to neighborhoods, with the understanding that private investment will follow. She proposes "Special Service Areas" — additional taxes levied on businesses that can be used for projects such as street cleaning or beautification. She also wants a public bank that would make loans to businesses in neighborhoods redlined by for-profit banks.
LaShawn Ford has also spoken of the importance of investing in the city’s underserved neighborhoods. Specifically, he wants to use state capital funding to rebuild abandoned houses.
“The West and South sides must be rebuilt,” Ford said during a Fox 32 debate. “If we do that, we’ll all be better off.”
If you want to change the police department
Rahm Emanuel is not running for re-election in large part because the black community, which provided his margin of victory in 2015, has not forgiven him for covering up the Laquan McDonald video. The coverup has intensified a breach of trust between the police department and communities of color. Consequently, the clearance rate on homicides is an abysmal 17 percent.
Lori Lightfoot was a member of the Police Board, and headed the Police Accountability Task Force, which was put together to make recommendations for reforming the department after the McDonald shooting. Lightfoot believes our crime stats can be turned around only by encouraging economic development in poor communities and building trust between police and citizens. She suggests more police training in areas such as technology and procedural injustice, and more engagement between detectives and the community.
Toni Preckwinkle says that as an alderman, she learned to work as a bridge between the police and the community. At her campaign announcement, she called herself “an outspoken critic concerning policing in the city of Chicago. I won’t apologize for that, nor stop calling out police violence, abuse and lack of accountability that continues to devastate our black and brown communities. In fact, I think understanding that reality is a requirement for the next mayor.”
If you want a law and order mayor
Most candidates for mayor favor the Police Department Consent Decree.
Not Garry McCarthy, who was police superintendent when Laquan McDonald was murdered. McCarthy says it will be a paperwork nightmare, forcing high-ranking officers to spend “less time supervising and more time documenting.”
During McCarthy’s tenure as superintendent, the department employed stop-and-frisk policing practices imported from his native New York. The practice was reeled in after the ACLU reached an agreement with the police requiring documentation of every stop an officer makes, including the citizen’s race.
McCarthy argues that he got results. In 2014, his last full year as superintendent, Chicago recorded 415 murders, its lowest total since the mid-1960s. But an exposé in this magazine accused McCarthy’s department of fudging the numbers by categorizing homicides as “non-criminal” deaths; McCarthy disputed the story.
Jerry Joyce is also running as a law and order candidate. He has promised to hire more police, particularly detectives.
“Solving murders and gun crimes cannot be done without adequate investigative manpower and the Detective Division must be restored so that violent crime can be investigated in a timely manner,“ he told Crain’s Chicago Business. “Too many cases are languishing because of the manpower shortage.”
If you love dibs
Does Gery Chico have a lot of old furniture in his garage? No candidate has taken a stronger stand in favor of dibs, the Chicago tradition of setting sawhorses and lawn chairs in the street to reserve a parking spot from which you've shoveled the snow.
“I’m not afraid to say it: if you shovel your spot, YOU should be able to call ‘dibs,’” Chico declared. “I know that many Chicagoans stand with me on this, so I’m taking a stand.”
Chico even cut a 15-second ad showing himself taking the “Pro Dibs” position in a barroom debate. Does he think there’s a pool of single-issue “dibs” voters out there who can carry him into the runoff? If dibs is the most important issue for you in this campaign, Chico is your candidate.
If the $1 billion pension deficit worries you
The next mayor is going to have to find $1 billion to cover the city’s pension obligations.
Paul Vallas, the man with the broom, has a plan for everything. But his plan to fund the city’s pensions is especially detailed. Here’s an excerpt:
“The plan includes supporting a legislative agenda that protects the statutory local government share of any increase in the State Income Tax that Governor Pritzker and the legislature enact, restores the illegal diversion of Corporate Personal Property Tax revenues that occurred during the previous administration, and phases in, over ten years, full State funding equity for the Chicago Teachers Retirement System. The first two items are things every municipality and county will be supporting and could be phased in over the next four years during the pension ramp-up…
“I have identified a number of specific budget areas where I believe the growth in City non-pension spending could be reduced over the next five years to provide the balance of what is needed to meet the City’s pension obligations. These areas include overtime, contractual services, worker’s compensation, healthcare, and more. Just a five percent reduction in base spending over the next five years would enable the City to meet the balance of the pension funding ramp up.”
Say what you will about the guy, but he's not afraid to get in the weeds.
If you want a basically Republican mayor
Donald Trump only won 12 percent of the vote in Chicago — a big reason he lost Illinois to Hillary Clinton. In a two-candidate race, 12 percent is abysmal, but in a 14-candidate race, it’s a big bloc.
Chicago’s Republicans have been getting behind Willie Wilson, who voted for both Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump. They admire a man who started out picking cotton for 20 cents an hour, and is now a multi-millionaire. Although he officially identifies as a Democrat, Wilson has been endorsed by Sean Morrison, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, by the Chicago Young Republicans, and by the Northwest Side GOP Club, whose chairman, Matt Podgorski, said, “I like [Wilson] for the same reason I like Donald Trump: he just doesn’t care. He says whatever comes to his mind, and he doesn’t owe anybody anything.”
If public education is a priority
All the candidates talk about improving education, but Susana Mendoza has the most skin in the game: her six-year-old son, David, attends a public elementary school.
Mendoza wants to avoid a repeat of the trauma that accompanied Rahm Emanuel’s closure of 50 schools. Parents went on hunger strikes and were arrested at City Hall protests. Mendoza’s 50New Initiative would theoretically turn under-enrolled schools into “community hubs” where students could get help with homework and a free supper, and where parents could get help looking for jobs.
“Using the additional equity funding coming from Springfield, these schools would partner with day care centers, family service providers, job training organizations, and other social service providers to provide wrap-around services to neighborhood kids and their families – everything from nutrition to life skills training to after-school academic help and counseling,” Mendoza’s platform states.
Mendoza also favors a school board with members both elected by the public and appointed by the mayor.
Preckwinkle, a former CPS history teacher who now has grandchildren in the system, has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union. She favors a fully elected school board, as well as a moratorium on school closings and new charter schools until that board is seated in 2023.
If you want a mayor with a Chicago accent
Rahm Emanuel does not have a Chicago accent. He grew up in Wilmette, attended Sarah Lawrence College, and spent a lot of time in D.C., where he met his wife, who is from Ohio and also does not have a Chicago accent.
If you think a Chicago mayor should sound like Swerski's Super Fans, Jerry Joyce is the best choice. Joyce grew up in Beverly, graduated from Marist High School and earned his law degree from Loyola. He did attend Yale in there, but if he ditched his accent in college, it jumped back into his mouth as soon as he returned to Chicago. Just listen! He even says “Chi-caw-go” like a Daley.
(Bill Daley is, obviously, a close second in this category.)
If you want a mayor who doesn't roll with Ed Burke
That would be every candidate except the so-called Burke Four: Susana Mendoza (married in Burke’s house), Gery Chico (aide to Burke’s finance committee), Toni Preckwinkle (attended fundraiser at Burke’s house), and Bill Daley (family has worked with Burke for decades).
Lori Lightfoot is the number one goo-goo in this category: in 1999, as Assistant U.S. Attorney, she won a conviction against Ald. Virgil Jones, who was caught up in the Operation Silver Shovel sting. As a candidate, Lightfoot has a nine-point ethics plan that calls for mayoral term limits and a ban on aldermen holding outside jobs that create conflicts of interest.