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Signature accomplishments: A mix of strategy and superstition in petition filing

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) lines up for the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) lines up for the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Most of the 18 announced candidates for mayor, including many of the top names, sat out Monday’s opening day of petition filing.

Conversely, all but two of the 46 incumbent aldermen seeking re-election filed their nominating petitions. So far, nearly a third of them have no opponent.

I wouldn’t read too much into either situation.

While many of the wannabes on the mayoral list of 18 will never make it to the starting line, there wasn’t much reason for any serious candidate to compete for the chance to be the first name on the Feb. 26 ballot.

Does anybody really think Susana Mendoza, Bill Daley, Dorothy Brown, Garry McCarthy, Gery Chico or Lori Lightfoot will lose votes because they aren’t the first name voters see?

For Chicago aldermen, on the other hand, it’s better to cover every base in the event voters drawn to the polls by the mayoral race don’t know who they are.

Based on past experience, the lists of mayoral and aldermanic hopefuls will grow considerably by the end of the filing period next Monday.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presents documentation to run for mayor on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle presents documentation to run for mayor on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Some candidates would just as soon be the last name on the ballot, and beyond that, by filing late they can cut down on the opportunity their opponents will have to mount legal challenges to their petitions.

There is a legitimate element of bragging rights involved in showing up on the first day to show whose stack of signatures is biggest.

Toni Preckwinkle and Willie Wilson took the honors in that regard with Paul Vallas close behind and Jerry Joyce a respectable fourth out of the four who got in line by the 9 a.m. cutoff for the chance to enter the ballot lottery.

Jeremiah Joyce Jr. speaks with the media on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Jeremiah Joyce Jr. speaks with the media on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

(I’m not counting Catherine Brown D’Tycoon, whatever her game is, because I can promise you her name will not appear on the ballot.)

Despite their impressive stacks, most candidates understand that petition signatures aren’t the same as votes, and no mayoral candidate is expected to have enough of the latter to avoid a runoff.

But the ability to gather signatures does indicate a basic organizational strength, which is the purpose of the byzantine ballot access test.

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On the City Council side, the absence of challengers in so many races may be a sign that the wholesale aldermanic turnover that many were predicting will not take place.

Then again, there’s still time for other candidates to file, and it only takes one.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) said he’s been predicting a record number of unopposed aldermanic candidates, but said that doesn’t preclude a large number of incumbents falling.

Aldermen Nicholas Sposato and Howard Brookins Jr. wait in line on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Aldermen Nicholas Sposato and Howard Brookins Jr. wait in line on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Sposato said the two potential candidates who have been talking about running against him did not show up for Monday’s first day of petition filing.

“Are they waiting to get more signatures, or were they just talking?” Sposato said.

Veteran Ald. Edward Burke (14th) said three candidates have been circulating petitions to run against him, but only one, Jose Torrez, filed Monday.

Candidates and their delegates line up for the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

I asked Burke how many of the three challengers he was putting up, a reference to a strategy political candidates sometimes use to dilute the strength of their opposition.

“Don’t give me that much credit,” Burke said.

Burke also wasn’t ready to call this his toughest election ever, noting he had seven opponents in his first run for alderman — in 1969. I guess we’ll call it his toughest re-election.

Alderman Edward M. Burke of the 14th Ward lines up for the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The two incumbent aldermen — Danny Solis (25th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) — who did not file their petitions Monday said they will do so before the deadline.

Solis, who is expecting several challengers, said he was in California making college visits with his son. Waguespack said he knows of no opponents planning to run against him and preferred to avoid the Monday rush.

Two incumbents who were thought to be on the fence about seeking re-election — Carrie Austin (34th) and Patrick O’Connor (40th) — both filed to run.

42nd ward Alderman Brendan Reilly on the first day of the filing period for Municipal Elections, Monday, November 19th, 2018. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he also knows of nobody planning to run against him, but wasn’t ready to celebrate.

“We’ll see where things stand in a week. I’m not one to jinx things,” he said.