Gut check: Political theater of candidate filing raises curtain on decisions and drama of mayoral, ward races
Beyond the bragging rights, candidates try to file more than the minimum number of signatures required to withstand challenges by rival candidates. The weeklong filing period also begins the winnowing of the mayoral field.
Political flexing akin to a boxing weigh-in — think signatures instead of muscles — took place Monday as mayoral and aldermanic candidates turned in nominating petitions of varying heft to get their names not just on the ballot, but with any luck, at the top.
Community activist Ja’Mal Green hoped to make a statement by hauling his signatures — about 30,000, he said — in a wheelbarrow decked out with ribbons and bows.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas’ 6-foot-4-inch frame (down 2 inches from his youthful apex) — helped him stand out in the crowd Monday at the Chicago Board of Elections Supersite, 191 N. Clark St. Vallas turned in a stack he estimated to have “north of 40,000” signatures.
Vallas didn’t lug the pile of paper to the Loop himself, he joked: “I had a stronger person carry it in.”
But jokes and theatrics aside, Monday actually marked the day the mayoral and other city races got serious — and real.
Beyond the bragging rights, mayoral candidates try to file more than the 12,500 minimum number of signatures required to get on the mayoral ballot — two or three times as many is a rule of thumb — to withstand challenges to their petitions by rival candidates seeking to end competing campaigns before they begin.
And the challenges of gathering signatures and filing the actual paperwork force their own reality check. Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Monday became the first political casualty of the mayoral race, abandoning his bid for the city’s top post and opting for a more winnable reelection bid.
Signatures, signs and sniping
By close of business, a total of six mayoral and 121 aldermanic candidates filed petitions on Monday, the first day of the week-long filing period. Aldermanic candidates must file a minimum of 473 signatures.
Candidates who turned in their signatures first thing Monday morning earned a spot in a Dec. 6 lottery to have their names appear at the top of the ballot, a spot that offers a slight advantage, according to widely accepted, but never proven, political lore.
Even more widely accepted — and proven in most elections — is the need to file extra signatures to withstand petition challenges in the city’s cutthroat political world.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) was accompanied by a sign-carrying entourage as she turned in her signatures to run for mayor, an estimated 37,000. Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson said he turned in about 41,000 signatures for his mayoral bid.
Topping them all, businessman Willie Wilson said he handed in more than 61,000 signatures. He took a moment to knock Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to hand in her signatures next Monday (the last day possible) and enter a separate lottery for the bottom spot on the ballot, a location thought to offer the next best slight advantage.
“It’s obvious she’s having problems getting signatures,” Wilson said.
Not true, according to a spokeswoman for the mayor’s campaign.
State Rep. Kam Buckner, a former lineman for the University of Illinois football team, had no problem managing the heft of his petitions. He said they contained more than 24,000 signatures, just under twice the minimum to run for mayor.
U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, a relative latecomer who announced his mayoral bid earlier this month, was absent Monday at the city’s election supersite at Clark and Lake.
Moreno plays his card, Burke keeps his to his vest
Beyond the spirited mayoral race, next year’s elections will usher in big changes and new voices for the City Council as well as some familiar faces and names.
In the 1st Ward on the Near Northwest Side, incumbent Ald. Daniel La Spata filed his petitions to run for a second term. So did the incumbent he ousted four years ago by more than 22 percentage points.
Former Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno is trying to make a political comeback after facing a string of alcohol-fueled scandals that included spending a week in jail for a DUI and being charged with insurance fraud and obstruction of justice for falsely reporting his 2017 Audi had been stolen.
In interviews this year, Moreno said he went into a tailspin after failing to talk a beloved friend out of committing suicide.
Others challenging La Spata include Sam Royko, a West Town lawyer and son of the late legendary newspaper columnist Mike Royko, and Stephen “Andy” Schneider.
Just two candidates filed petitions in the Southwest Side’s 14th Ward, where Ald. Ed Burke, the longest serving alderman in Chicago history has held sway since 1969. Candidates as of Monday included Jeylu B. Gutierrez and Raul Reyes.
Burke had not filed petitions as of 5 p.m. He is set to stand trial in November 2023 on federal racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion charges. If he files, he’d be seeking his 14th term in the City Council.
But in other wards, as of Monday evening, 55 candidates filed for the 14 City Council seats whose incumbents are either retiring, running for mayor or have moved on for other reasons.
The South Side’s 21st Ward drew the most competition, with eight candidates filing to take the seat now held by retiring Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. They include Patricia L. Tillman, Cornell Dantzler, Tawana J. “T.J.” Robinson, Justin Sawyer, Larry Lloyd, Preston Brown Jr., Lawaco Toe and Ronnie L. Mosley.
Next was the North Side’s 48th Ward, where Harry Osterman’s retirement drew seven early filers: Joe Dunne, Isaac Freilich Jones, Andre Peloquin, Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth, Brian J. Haag, Nick Ward and Larry Svabek.
In the Northwest Side’s 30th Ward, Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of former U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, is making another run for the Council seat being surrendered by retiring Ald. Ariel Reboyras, who narrowly won a run-off with Jessica Gutierrez four years ago. She will have to beat three others this time to claim the seat, including Juanpablo Prieto, Warren Williams and Ruth Cruz.
No break for the appointed
And newly minted Council members already tapped to fill some of those vacancies will likely have to fight to hold those seats.
Ald. Nicole Lee, appointed to replace convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson in the 11th Ward, drew three challengers, Ambria Taylor, Anthony “Tony” Ciaravino and Elvira “Vida” Jimenez.
Ald. Monique Scott, appointed to succeed her brother Michael Scott in the West Side’s 24th Ward, drew three challengers: Vetress M. Boyce, Luther Woodruff Jr. and Larry G. Nelson.
And Ald. Timmy Knudsen faces a challenge from three rivals in his bid to hold onto Lincoln Park’s 43rd Ward seat, which he was appointed to after Ald. Michele Smith retired. They include Brian C. Comer, Steve Botsford and Rebecca Janowitz.
The seat vacated by indicted Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin only drew one filer on Monday, but he has potentially deep pockets.
Bill Conway, who lost his challenge to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx two years ago, filed to succeed Austin, noting her former Far South Side Council seat now includes parts of the Loop and West Loop, where Conway lives.
He’s the son of William E. Conway Jr., who helped found the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, and has a net worth pegged at $3 billion. The billionaire pumped $10.5 million into his son’s unsuccessful 2020 Democratic primary challenge to Foxx.
Earlier this year, Bill Conway, a former prosecutor and Naval intelligence officer, told the Sun-Times he was being urged to run for mayor.
Bill Conway already reported $322,700 in his campaign committee, but so far none of it was from his father. The candidate contributed $50,000 from his own pockets and took in smaller donations from leading business leaders, including $6,000 from Michael Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management and a Sun-Times founding donor.
In other races, 46 candidates filed to run for the three-member local civilian oversight councils in Chicago’s 22 police districts. Those councils, part of the city’s police reform efforts, are overseen by the appointed Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability.
The elections for mayor, alderman and other city offices will take place Feb. 28, but if no candidate gets a majority of the vote in a race, a runoff between the two top candidates will take place April 4.