Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to “write another chapter” in his life also turns the page on Chicago politics, serving as the prologue to a new, as yet unknown, storyline.
His exit means anything can happen in a mayoral race full of faces Chicagoans may not know very well — with the strong possibility of more big names joining the mix.
Will Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza or Attorney General Lisa Madigan clear the field? They’re both women who have won statewide campaigns, are longtime Chicagoans and are popular with city voters. Both have been officially mum so far.
There’s also Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who decided against a City Hall run earlier this year. Might she change her mind now that the seat is vacant and she is the new Cook County Democratic chairman? Sources said she is seriously mulling the race.
The time could be right for another female mayor. The city’s only had one.
With Emanuel in the race, it was never a contest of equals. It was a race for second place to see who could force the incumbent into a runoff election.
Now it’s really a race to see who would likely come in first and second, since a run-off is just as likely with no clear frontrunner.
Emanuel stepped out with more than $8 million in his campaign war chest and the capacity to raise millions more with his national network. The money game now becomes more important for his would-be successors.
Candidates need money for TV ads, and to bolster their own campaign staff. Tom Bowen, a Democratic consultant, estimated that “serious” mayoral candidates would need about $5 million in campaign cash. Another consultant said candidates will need the “low millions.”
The field now includes former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, former Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, community activist Ja’Mal Green, former CPS principal Troy LaRaviere, policy consultant Amara Enyia, Southwest Side attorney Jerry Joyce, businessman Willie Wilson and tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin.
And the list of those considering a bid will no doubt grow in the coming days. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) are all considering runs.
Other names thrown into the political rumor mill shortly after the announcement included former city and state education board president Gery Chico, former Obama chief of staff and Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia.
If Mendoza runs she’d have to have labor or other groups begin collecting her signatures prior to the Nov. 6 election in which she’s running statewide as the Democratic candidate for comptroller. Then she’d have just weeks to announce and collect the rest of signatures — at least 12,500 — before a Nov. 26 deadline for the mayoral election.
But the candidates already in the race say they deserve extra credit for challenging Emanuel — and his $8 million war chest — first.
Lightfoot, the former president of the Chicago Police Board, has been campaigning for four months. On Tuesday she took shots at any potential candidate who would use Emanuel’s announcement as an opportunity to join the race.
“Anybody who decides to jump in and take advantage of today’s political news, ask them where they’ve been,” she said.
Lightfoot insisted that the news “doesn’t change what we’re fighting for” and “our focus, day to day, does not change.”
Lightfoot has about $552,000 campaign cash on hand. If progressive groups coalesce around one candidate, it might be her. Lightfoot is gay, a woman and African-American. She can reach out to several demographic bases without necessarily needing a geographic base.
But a group of black, white and Latino community leaders on Tuesday said they’re embarking on a process to rebuild the multi-racial coalition that elected the late Mayor Harold Washington in 1983 — to unite behind one yet unidentified candidate.
“Those who aspire to replace Emanuel must put forward an urban agenda, a policy that is inclusive from the bottom up, to close gaps of inequity and make Chicago one city for all, following in the footsteps of Mayor Harold Washington, emphasizing neighborhoods where the need is greatest,” the Rev Jesse Jackson Sr. said in a statement.
While unions are taking a close look at Lightfoot’s campaign, there’s also room for another progressive voice in the field, consultants say. They want the most viable progressive they can find.
Lightfoot, too, could become the beneficiary of some of President Barack Obama’s more progressive supporters. But that group also could gravitate to Paul Vallas, the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
Vallas announced his run in May and on Tuesday expressed confidence in his chances of winning. Vallas said he expects candidates to see a bump in fundraising with Emanuel out. He currently has about $443,000 on hand.
“I think all the candidates are going to benefit with their respective constituencies, so to speak, when it comes to being a little more successful on the fundraising side,” Vallas said.
Vallas does have some name recognition. He knows government and he knows campaigns. He’s not a new face, and he may not be seen as the most progressive, but he is an expert on the issues. His challenge will be to translate that in an approachable way to voters.
It’s unclear how Emanuel’s exit will fare for former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy. If the Laquan McDonald case was a problem for Emanuel, double that for McCarthy, who was the police head when the shooting happened. The timing of Jason Van Dyke’s trial, which begins on Wednesday, may also not fare well for McCarthy as the graphic shooting will be once again blasted on television airwaves and in newspaper headlines.
Hours after the Emanuel announcement, McCarthy revisited the issue, saying “everybody knows that the video was suppressed by City Hall.” McCarthy said in his role as head of police, he could have taken “exactly one step and that was to put the officer on paid desk duty, which is exactly what I did.”
But McCarthy has worked hard to distance himself from the shooting and he’s been a frequent mayoral critic. Emanuel fired him after the video was publicly released.
“We need new leadership and we’re going to get it and it’s obvious that the people of Chicago are tired of bullying politics and pay-to-play and failed leadership,” McCarthy said on Tuesday, adding he thinks he’ll also get a fundraising bump in light of the news.
Several Chicago political consultants say they’re waiting for the dust to settle after Emanuel’s shocking announcement. They’re also watching the City Council for an exodus from some of its most veteran aldermen.
And whoever makes it through the mayoral election will be awarded the daunting challenge of helping the city through some of its worst challenges.
If Emanuel’s commitment to best practices in the latest technology — cameras on police officers and the addition of data rooms to detect gunshots in the most violent areas of the city — couldn’t stop Chicago’s chronic shooting sprees, what will these candidates do better and differently?
Ultimately, with a crowded field about to get even more crowded, it’ll be partly up to citizens to do their own research about the next mayor. The challenge will be for candidates to differentiate themselves and to get their messages out.
“The debates are going to be crucial because people won’t know all of these people and anybody who wants to figure out who their next mayor is should be an active citizen and go and find out who the people are,” said Kitty Kurth, a veteran Democratic political consultant. “In a way this puts the burden of citizens on the citizens.”
Besides name recognition and cash, voters will have to decide which candidate will do the best to make the city a better place, to curb rising property taxes and end the pension crisis.
The candidates will have to rebuild trust in minority communities, and perhaps take up Emanuel’s bully pulpit against President Donald Trump in a Democratic city that’s fought tooth and nail against his policies.
The path to the fifth floor of City Hall may now be clear, but that doesn’t mean the journey will be easy or without its share of harrowing twists and turns.
Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Rachel Hinton and Sam Charles