Election Day is akin to the opening of baseball season, where optimism reigns and no one is a loser — at least until 7 p.m., when the votes start being counted.
With a crowded field of nine candidates for mayor, and only two destined to make the April 4 runoff, the group of seven candidates who voters sent to the bench quickly began to take shape early Tuesday night.
There were questions whether Jesús “Chuy” García, as a sitting congressman, would even enter this mayoral race.
Since he forced then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff in 2015, García moved from his Cook County Board seat to join Congress in 2019, following the retirement of U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez. A politically safe congressional seat was drawn for him — one that he will keep — although Democrats were sent into the minority in the House in last year’s midterm election.
García, 66, ran with unquestionable progressive credentials. An ally of the late Mayor Harold Washington, his political career grew steadily from serving as an alderman and state lawmaker. And he became a national surrogate for Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bids.
But by the time Garcia entered the race, progressive union support had splintered among other candidates, creating a test of the effectiveness of the political organization that he had put together in a city with a growing Latino population.
Garcia’s candidate for the 25th Ward seat in Pilsen, Aida Flores, also failed in her bid to oust Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez.
Though he was helped by the building trades, Garcia ran a largely uninspired race in contrast to his campaign of four years ago that relied upon the enthusiasm of a unified, progressive labor coalition. He got about 14%.
For his part, though, Garcia told supporters, “I left it all on the field. We left it all on the field.”
“We all have so much work to do,” he said, “and I will never stop fighting for Chicago. We poured our hearts into this race for the past few months, and today we worked long hours.
“Tomorrow we get back up and we work harder,” Garcia said, saying whoever wins the mayor’s race will be “held accountable to us and every community in Chicago.”
He now returns to Washington with a congressional seat that could be his for life, though the stature of his political power has become weakened.
At 27, as the youngest candidate in the race, community activist and entrepreneur Ja’Mal Green still has a long future to seek opportunities for political office.
As an activist, Green’s roles in protests against police shootings of Black citizens and against racial banking policies have resulted in personal attention as well as some institutional change — though the progressive policies he championed in the mayoral campaign carried huge price tags with questionable plans to pay for them.
Green had appeared to have learned much about campaigning and messaging since his initial bid for mayor in 2019, when he was forced to withdraw after his petitions were challenged for insufficient signatures. And his alliance with Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with whom he served surrogacy roles in past presidential campaigns, adds to his knowledge base and network.
But a day after his campaign bus became mired in the mud, Green also muddied up any political good will he had earned by refusing to concede his race in front of TV cameras and supporters despite his support hovering at a lowly 2%. An hour later, he used social media to offer a concession.
[ Mayor Lori Lightfoot concedes defeat, setting stage for Chicago’s mayoral race to be between Brandon Johnson and Paul Vallas ]
State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner’s mayoral bid could be viewed as a trial run for a future bid for higher office, a way to earn name recognition among city voters while not having the campaign loss seriously damage a still-budding political career.
A state representative in only his second term, Buckner, 37, has become a leading player in Springfield and serves as a top deputy in House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s leadership team.
By keeping his seat in the legislature, Buckner will be able to remain politically active on major issues as he has in the past on subjects ranging from criminal justice reform, an elected Chicago school board and allowing student athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image and likeness.
Buckner’s political skill set is also aided by previously serving as an aide to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and later for Mitch Landrieu, during his time as New Orleans mayor.
“We led the pack on offering real solutions,” Buckner said in delivering a concession address after gaining less than 2% backing.
“It’s my fervent hope that the next mayor of Chicago will put politics aside and collaborate with our communities, the City Council, Springfield and Washington, D.C., to make Chicago work better than it ever has, and I stand ready to help them do that,” he said.
With Roderick Sawyer opting to run for mayor rather than another term as alderman, his loss — with less than 1% backing — would appear to close out the Sawyer family’s historic political influence in the city.
Son of the mayor who succeeded Harold Washington after his death, Eugene Sawyer, Roderick Sawyer served for more than a decade on the City Council, though he will continue to hold a ward committee post in the Cook County Democratic organization.
Despite his political pedigree and standing on the City Council, Sawyer, 59, never saw a major groundswell of support behind his bid for mayor.
But in delivering his concession, Sawyer didn’t flatly rule out a role in public service.
“I’m proud of my record. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done,” he said. “I’m a Chicagoan true and true, and what I’ll continue to do is continue to fight for Chicago. I’m going to fight on behalf of Chicago any way I can. I don’t know how I’m going to do that yet. But we’re going to figure that out because I love this city.”
The same held true for Sophia King, who gave up the aldermanic seat she has held since 2016 representing the South Loop and Bronzeville lakefront.
Despite King’s strong background of political engagement, including a stint as vice chair of Planned Parenthood Chicago and current chair of the City Council Progressive Caucus, her legacy may be for helping lead the renaming of Lake Shore Drive after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, the Black founder of Chicago.
King was never able to gain any traction in the race with her husband, attorney Alan King, providing nearly half of the more than $800,000 she raised in the race.
Delivering her concession speech with just more than 1% backing and her husband by her side, King turned to him and said, “My husband is my rock, my best friend and I just want you to know how much I appreciate your support.”
The third time was no charm for plastic glove entrepreneur Willie Wilson, who was getting less than the 11% of the vote that he finished with when he lost the 2015 and 2019 mayoral races..
Wilson doled out millions of dollars of his personal fortune through gas giveaways and gift cards and once again he largely self-funded his campaign, to the tune of about $6 million.
Wilson’s history of futility in political campaigns also includes a failed 2016 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, in which he qualified for the ballot in only a handful of states, and an unsuccessful independent party challenge to Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s 2020 reelection, in which Wilson got 4% of the statewide vote.
Just as he did four years ago in finishing out of the money, Wilson refused to concede despite falling far behind.
“It ain’t over with,” Wilson said at the lectern, flanked by numerous supporters. “We’re going to go home tonight and get at least a good night sleep.”