Supporters of Susana Mendoza have begun circulating nominating petitions to get her on the ballot in the crowded race for Chicago mayor — but the Illinois comptroller still insists she’s only focused on the reelection campaign to keep her current job.
The petitions were passed around Saturday at the downtown “Women’s March to the Polls” by volunteers from a committee formed last month to “draft” Mendoza to run for mayor, an effort led by former U.S. Civil Rights Commission chairman Marty Castro.
A Mendoza spokesman declined to comment on Saturday. Mendoza has said she’s “flattered” by calls for her to jump in the race, but is “entirely focused on her reelection campaign as comptroller.”
“She is battle-tested, not afraid to stand up to anyone for what’s right, versed in handling financial challenges, has served in municipal and state office, and has the integrity to bring transparency to city government,” Castro said last month.
It’s not in Mendoza’s political interests to enter the mayor’s race — or even talk about it — unless she defeats Republican challenger Darlene Senger to hold the comptroller post. But after the November election, she’d have only 20 days to gather the 12,500 signatures needed to get on the ballot for the mayoral election in February.
During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board earlier this month, the Northwest Side Democrat said she is undecided about a mayoral run. She didn’t promise to serve a full term as comptroller and said she hadn’t ruled anything out.
“I’m very focused on being comptroller, if you look at my calendar … you’ll see that all of my appearances on my calendar continue to be for comptroller,” Mendoza said. “I wouldn’t rule anything in or out, and I’m just being honest with the public. … I’m not lying to you when I tell you I’m not even close to making a decision on that.”
Illinois Republican Party executive director Travis Sterling accused Mendoza of misleading voters about her intentions.
“Mendoza’s current deceptions and lies are obvious proof points to her continuation of putting her own self-service ahead of public service,” Sterling said in a statement.
Political operatives have floated Mendoza’s name as a strong potential candidate since Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bombshell announcement last month that he wouldn’t seek a third term.
A proven vote-getter along the lakefront and among younger voters now dominating the political scene, Mendoza served as Chicago’s city clerk and as a top lieutenant to Mike Madigan in the Illinois House of Representatives, before being elected comptroller in 2016. She would be the second Hispanic candidate in the crowded field along with Gery Chico.
A Mendoza candidacy could become a major headache for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, perhaps the biggest name in the mayor’s race thus far.
At 46, Mendoza is a quarter-century younger than the 71-year-old Preckwinkle. She not only would be poised to become the leading Hispanic candidate with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez out, but she also has potential appeal to the young progressive voters who flocked to Garcia.
Castro, the person leading the effort to draft Mendoza into the race, co-chaired Chico’s 2011 mayoral run as well as Garcia’s effort that forced Emanuel into a runoff in 2015.
Mendoza’s regular bashing of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has kept her popular with both the Madigan Democrats and the party’s more liberal wing, and she’s also benefiting from a TV spot she’s running for the comptroller’s race. Running unopposed in the county board president “race,” Preckwinkle has kept a lower campaign profile.
Preckwinkle, who chairs the county Democratic party, declined to comment on mayor’s race at the Women’s March on Saturday.
“I’m here today for the march, so that’s all I’m going to comment on,” she said.
Preckwinkle and Chico are among 17 candidates who have thrown their hats into the mayoral ring, a field that also includes former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and Bill Daley, the brother of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Barack Obama’s former chief of staff.
Last week, Daley became the first candidate to top $1 million in fundraising. His campaign shrugged off the latest Mendoza news.
“Looks like the race for mayor got even more crowded,” Daley campaign spokesman Peter Cunningham said on Saturday. “We welcome a robust debate about ideas for leading Chicago forward and strengthening all of our neighborhoods.”
Contributing: Rachel Hinton and Ashlee Rezin