This is Chicago magazine’s latest attempt to handicap the mayor’s race. Remember, though, at this point four years ago, nobody thought Lori Lightfoot would win, including us. For consistency’s sake, we don’t think she’ll win this time, either.
1. Chuy Garcia
Garcia knows how to cover his (ethnic) bases. At his campaign announcement at Navy Pier last week, he was introduced by a Black woman (activist Stephanie Gadlin), a white man (former alderman Edwin Eisendrath), and an Asian woman (state Rep. Theresa Mah). His Latino self then touted his connection to Harold Washington, who supported his 1986 run for alderman, and appointed him chairman of the AIDS education committee. The magic formula for a minority candidate is ethnic base plus upscale whites. Obama did it. Garcia can, too. Garcia is a much stronger candidate than he was eight years ago. He’s a congressman, representing more constituents than any other challenger. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee, bolstering his familiarity with budgetary matters — a weakness during his 2015 debate with Rahm Emanuel. In Congress, he was also involved in crafting President Biden’s American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act. And, his signs just say “Chuy.” When you can go by one name, you’ve made it in politics. A poll taken in October showed Garcia defeating Lightfoot in a runoff, 43 percent to 34 percent — the only candidate to do so.
According to a recent Harris poll, three out of four Chicagoans want a new mayor. Not even Malört could leave a taste in the city’s mouth more bitter than Lightfoot’s term as mayor. Voters blame Her Honor for high crime and an inability to get along with aldermen — or anybody. The mayor is trying to win us back with…pizza. In her new “Lightfoot Delivers” ad, two game-playing bros debate Lightfoot’s accomplishments, with one pointing out that Lightfoot brought 5,000 Google jobs to the city and “was cool during COVID.” At the end of the 30-second spot, Lightfoot appears at their door, asking, “Did you order thousands of new jobs, and a pepperoni?” Lightfoot’s electoral coalition may look different this time than it did in 2019. She has her strongest support in the Black community, because, according to radio host Maze Jackson, they feel that “this is probably the last shot to have a Black mayor, because of the declining population.” A runoff with Garcia could become another chapter in the Black-Latino power struggle we saw during the City Council ward remap.
Johnson, a Cook County commissioner from the West Side, is the candidate of the Left, with the support of the Chicago Teachers Union, Service Employees International Union 73, and many of the democratic socialists on the City Council. Like those socialist aldermen, he favors the “Treatment not Trauma” approach to public safety, which calls for reopening mental health clinics, and for social workers, rather than police officers, to respond to 911 calls from those in mental distress. Is the Left a large enough constituency to put Johnson into a runoff, and will he lose voters who believe Garcia is a more electable progressive?
4. Paul Vallas
Vallas, who has allied himself with police groups, could conceivably beat Lightfoot in a runoff by appealing to the fears of the lakefront voters who elected her four years ago. He wants to fill 1,500 vacant positions in the police department by running two shifts at the academy, and move 1,000 officers from cityside patrols to neighborhood beats. Vallas has to get to the runoff first, though. This well-worn candidate received only 5 percent of the vote in his 2015 mayoral run.
Wilson has a higher ceiling than most candidates, but also a lower floor. He’s guaranteed to get 10 percent of the vote, mainly from South and West Side Black Chicagoans, and lower-income voters grateful for his gasoline and grocery giveaways. That won’t be enough to put him in the runoff, though.
6. Kam Buckner
Buckner is an earnest progressive with a “4 Star Plan” for education, public safety, transportation, mental health, and the environment. He wants to add $436 million in funding to the Chicago Public Schools, create a 511 number for mental health calls, and a community policing program that recruits officers from the neighborhoods they serve. However, he’s a state representative — the lowest-profile political office in Chicago — and has to compete with Garcia and Johnson for the Left’s vote.
At a recent City Council meeting, Lopez asked me when the next Mayoral Power Rankings was coming out. I reminded him that the last alderman elected mayor was Monroe Heath — in 1876. “That’s only 150 years,” he responded. Lopez was the first candidate to declare for mayor. He loves to campaign, and he loves to see his name in print. Since Lopez is giving up his City Council seat to run for mayor, his best shot at staying in politics may be running for Garcia’s congressional seat, should Garcia win.
“My dad was mayor” worked for Carter Harrison Jr. and Richard M. Daley. But their dads were elected by the voters, and bequeathed them political organizations. Sawyer’s dad was appointed by the City Council and served for a year and a half before losing to the aforementioned Daley.
9. Sophia King
As chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, King helped pass a $15 minimum wage and create the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. As mayor, she would fire Police Superintendent David Brown, hire 200 more detectives, and create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention. King does a good job representing her Bronzeville ward, but one problem facing alders running for mayor is that their constituency amounts to only 2 percent of the city.
10. Ja’Mal Green
Green is making his second run for mayor. In 2019, he ran as a police reformer, but failed to make the ballot, after Willie Wilson challenged his petitions. Petition gathering is the most fundamental skill in politics. At 27, Green still has time to learn it.
11-13. Frederick Collins, Robert Earnshaw, and DJ Doran
Collins is a police officer, Earnshaw is the Chicago Police Department’s Freedom of Information officer, Laborman is a real estate agent, Doran is a publishing executive. Remember their names, because you probably won’t be seeing them on a ballot.