Chicago’s 2019 mayoral election is nine months away, but 10 people, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, say they are in it to win it.
The announced challengers to Emanuel include former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot; former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas; Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; Black Lives Matter activist Ja’Mal Green; and John Kozlar, who previously ran for 11th Ward alderman.
The crowd includes Chicago Principals Association President Troy LaRaviere; former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy; tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin; and businessman Willie Wilson. There’s probably more to come.
Voters need more than a score card to keep track. They need an atlas, catalogue and more memory on their laptops.
Fear not. It’s one thing to run, quite another to make the ballot.
To paraphrase the late, great Mayor Harold Washington, getting on the ballot in Chicago “ain’t beanbag.”
Longtime Chicago election law attorney Richard Means advised Washington’s ballot efforts in his winning 1983 and 1987 mayoral elections. He worked with Gery Chico on his failed 2011 mayoral campaign.
“It’s not easy to make the ballot if the existing candidates consider you a threat,” he said in a phone interview.
There are lots of threats in what will be a brutal contest. Emanuel is vulnerable. He will need more than 50 percent of the vote to win the Feb. 26 contest outright.
If he falls short, the two highest vote-getters will compete in the April 2 runoff.
Qualifying for the ballot requires a sophisticated ground game that devours money and time. A mayoral candidate must gather valid signatures from 12,500 registered voters, as required by the Chicago Board of Elections.
For insurance, count on collecting between 25,000 and 40,000, said Means, who is not currently advising a mayoral candidate.
You must get there first. Each voter can sign only one candidate’s petition. And the signatures must be “perfect,” Means noted. “There is such a great chance that the person is not registered at the address that is shown.”
Or the petition is circulated improperly, he added. The circulator must witness every signature. “Maybe somebody left it on a tavern bar.”
Or notarized improperly. Or the instructions on the forms are misunderstood. Or the petition sheets are numbered wrong.
Some candidates rely on paid circulators, farming out $1 to $2 per signature, he said. That’s pricey and creates a “huge incentive to cut corners.”
Candidates can’t start circulating petitions until Aug. 28; they must be filed by Nov. 26.
Then the “blood sport” begins.
“It just takes a whole lot of lawyering” to respond to objections to your petitions. A challenge can bog you down in court and cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
For a campaign, “being caught up in objections is like getting cancer. It’s really hard to cure.”
It can raise doubt about a candidacy. Fundraising dries up. Volunteers and press coverage fall off.
It’s all so byzantine.
“People complain about the petition process, but the process does tend to build a winning campaign organization,” Means said.
Candidates most likely to make the ballot are those who are superbly organized, have a genuine political base and can attract committed, honest volunteers who fervently believe in the cause.
That will surely eliminate the poseurs, egos and crooks.
Well, one can hope.