Sophia King, the alderwoman of the 4th Ward, would make an excellent mayor of Chicago. Her approach to public safety is in the middle ground between Willie Wilson’s law-and-order “hunt them down like a rabbit” dictate, and Brandon Johnson’s “treatment not trauma” approach, which would require fewer officers. King wants more cops, and she wants to enforce the federal consent decree on the police department.

“We can uplift police and hold them accountable,” King said during the January 19 WGN debate. “We can have safety and justice.”

As I wrote after that debate, King is a politician “who can bridge the city’s ethnic and ideological divides.” (King liked that quote so much she used it in her TV ad.) If you’re looking to replace a Black woman who can’t get along with the City Council with a Black woman who can, King is the right person.

However, I won’t be voting for King on February 28. Why? Because she can’t win. Over the past year, King has only raised $545,000 — a tenth of Mayor Lightfoot’s $5.1 million. In a recent Chicago Sun-Times/WBEZ/Telemundo Chicago/NBC5 poll, she was tied for next-to-last place, with 1 percent support. Instead of voting with my heart, I’ll vote for someone who has a chance to make the runoff. (Who that is, I haven’t decided yet; I’m waiting until Election Day to see who looks viable.) It’s called “strategic voting”: voting for a candidate you don’t love to prevent a candidate you hate from becoming mayor. And in this nine-person election, everybody’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it — right, left and center.

From the right, here’s A.J. Manaseer, who tweeted: “With Vallas leading poll and poll and seemingly a lock to make the runoff, and with Lori neck and neck with Johnson/Chuy, does it make sense to vote strategically for Lori in this round to help prevent anyone left of her (ie Johnson and arguably Chuy) from making the runoff?”

From the left, here’s Stephanie Skora, author of the progressive Girl, I Guess Voter Guide: “In a world without Brandon Johnson running, Kam [Buckner] would have my full support. But as it stands right now, he doesn’t have the money, the endorsements, or the electoral experience to win a tough race (in fact, he’s never faced a real opponent in an election). Brandon has all those. What Kam DOES have is a base of progressive supporters, who could be the difference between Brandon in the runoff, and a runoff featuring Vallas/Wilson/Lightfoot. 2-4% is a lot. We need every single progressive in Chicago to get behind Brandon, & that includes Kam at this point.”

Chicagoans, we shouldn’t have to settle for our second or third choice in the marketplace of politicians. And we wouldn’t have to if we elected our mayors using ranked-choice voting. Earlier this month, 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin introduced a resolution asking the City Council to hold a hearing on ranked-choice voting, which was just adopted by Evanston, and has already been used to elect mayors in New York, San Francisco, Oakland, and Minneapolis. 

As Martin told Block Club Chicago, ranked-choice voting would eliminate the need for Chicagoans to compromise themselves by voting strategically, then leaving the polls feeling icky, dispirited and disgusted with a political system that offers only binary choices dictated by wealthy political donors and our lax campaign finance laws.

“They can vote for the person, rank them their number one, who they are most excited about,” Martin said. “But then if there’s a different person who they would also be excited about, albeit a little less, they can list them as number two. So we’d have fewer situations at the end of the day of folks who aren’t excited about the only choice they have at the ballot box.”

A ranked-choice election works like this: If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the one with the fewest is eliminated. The second-choice picks on those ballots are distributed to the remaining candidates. If there’s still no one with a majority, the process repeats, with the next-lowest candidate eliminated and the highest-ranked survivor on each of those ballots getting those votes. This continues until someone receives a majority.

If this were a ranked-choice election, I could list King first on my ballot, followed immediately by a more viable candidate, who would get my vote once King was eliminated. (Who knows? If enough voters were comfortable with King’s middle-of-the-road positions, she might not be eliminated. She might be elected, as a consensus candidate.) Skora could vote Buckner first, Johnson second.

Chicago has never been in the vanguard of electoral or political reform. But in the words of a Canadian politician, “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.” Or a better way of electing a mayor.