With Chicago’s mayoral election just days away, candidates focus on turning out their bases, and making the runoff cutoff – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

With days to go before Chicago’s mayoral election — and a virtual certainty that no one will win the seat outright — candidates are focused on turning out their political bases to secure a spot in the April 4 runoff.

At least five of the nine candidates are seriously vying for the top two spots in Tuesday’s mayor’s race, while others hope to shock the political establishment by breaking through the field, so crowded that it’s highly unlikely anyone will get more than half the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Early voter turnout, meanwhile, has far surpassed both the 2019 and 2015 municipal elections. More than 178,000 mail-in and in-person ballots had been cast as of Friday. That’s more than double the ballots cast at this time in the 2019 and 2015 cycles.

As Chicago enters the final days of voting in the election’s first round, candidates have spent millions on TV ads trashing their opponents and building themselves up — but voter turnout will decide who wins. Although five candidates have raised more than $2 million for their campaigns, none has been able to build an overwhelming financial advantage like the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel stockpiled in 2015 to secure a second term.

Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas enters the weekend in a strong position; turnout has been particularly high in areas where he’s expected to do well, including conservative Northwest and Southwest side wards drawn to his law-and-order platform.

Vallas has also tried to appeal to white voters downtown and on the North Side by touting endorsements from aldermen Brendan Reilly and Tom Tunney in a TV ad where he also declares himself a Democrat, to rebut criticism from other candidates that he is funded by conservative donors and is a closet Republican.

As the incumbent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot holds a name recognition advantage but has struggled to counter criticism over high crime and her combative leadership style. She needs to turn out Black voters and sufficient numbers of white liberals who delivered her 2019 victory to make it to the second round this year.

Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, who has surged in recent weeks, must capture Milwaukee Avenue progressives on the Northwest Side, gain support along the lakefront and win enough Black voters to make a runoff. U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García is counting on Latino voters and winning over white progressives, particularly along the lakefront.

Businessman Willie Wilson hopes he will retain his Black base, which gave him roughly 10% of the vote in the past two mayoral elections, and gain enough support from white conservatives on the Northwest Side to emerge a surprise winner.

Other candidates have less clear potential paths to a runoff. State Rep. Kambium “Kam” Buckner and Ald. Sophia King need to win big along lakefront areas they currently represent, while activist Ja’Mal Green hopes for strong youth turnout supporting his candidacy. South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer could ride a wave of support from Black voters, though that is unlikely with six other Black candidates in the race and his low fundraising totals.

Chicago mayoral candidate Roderick Sawyer answers questions from Justin Kaufmann, left, and Monica Eng, right, at The Hideout in Chicago on Feb. 23, 2023.

Heading into the campaign’s final stretch, Garcia traversed lakefront wards, progressive Northwest Side neighborhoods and areas he hopes are his Latino strongholds for a string of retail political events aimed at shoring up support. The deluge of appearances underscored the pressure that the two-time mayoral candidate is under to gain ground after his campaign has underwhelmed.

Garcia strolled into the sunny atrium of a senior home earlier this month in Edgewater, where he focused much of his speech on his late mother, who he said had a penchant for singing and poetry.

“The safety of people who are elderly is important to me. You know why? Because my mother continues to — may she rest in peace — continues to be the most powerful force in what I do in public office. She raised me right,” Garcia said. “It is forces like that that give me the energy and the drive to want to serve everyone in the city of Chicago.”

Mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García greets supporters at a campaign event on Feb. 19, 2023, at Lago Banquet Hall in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood of Chicago.

He also shared that the senior center’s oatmeal cookies on the table were his “favorite” and said, “I am a cookie monster and I think the mayor of Chicago should be a cookie monster.” As Garcia maneuvered around the clusters of residents, an older woman flirted with him.

“You look better in person,” she said, eliciting a bashful chuckle from Garcia.

A hefty chunk of Garcia’s final stops have concentrated in Latino neighborhoods as he held rallies on the Southwest and Northwest sides. Last weekend, the Mexico-born candidate jumped on stage at a West Elsdon rally and asked the residents to call out their hometowns, drawing upon their shared sense of immigrant pride.

Johnson, who is backed by the teachers union, also made appearances aimed at drawing support from white progressives, including a candidates’ forum at the Hideout Chicago that also featured Garcia and Buckner.

All three were asked to define “progressive,” with Johnson beginning by reminding the crowd that he is the descendant of slaves.

“Progressive politics means that we are moving away from the status quo, embracing a progressive form of governance, so that equity and justice becomes the prevailing form of politics,” Johnson said.

The subject of equity cropped up in many of his answers, including when he boldly proclaimed that “I am complicit in reinforcing white supremacy.”

Mayoral candidate and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson walks to the polls with voters on Feb. 20, 2023, in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago.

That was in response to a question on transforming Chicago Police Department culture, which he answered by bringing up that he administered standardized tests as a former Chicago Public Schools teacher. Then he traced the history of such tests to the eugenicist Henry Goddard, who brought an early version of intelligence testing to the U.S. in the early 1900s, with later iterations making their way into schools.

“Some of these institutions, whether it’s law enforcement or education, have a long history of not just exacerbating but perpetuating the type of structures that have been harmful to people,” Johnson said.

Johnson has also courted progressives at a “Brandon is Literally Better” improv showcase at the iO Theater as well as a Lakeview house party, and rolled out an endorsement from popular Rogers Park Ald. Maria Hadden.

Although Lightfoot is trying to win the Black vote, she has not given up on her 2019 lakefront base. Friday afternoon, she scanned the racks of the LGBTQ-owned Rattleback Records in Andersonville with her wife Amy Eshleman, carefully considering Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and Sly and the Family Stone vinyls and greeting the store’s owner, Paul Ruffino.

“I thought she handled things during the pandemic quite well,” Ruffino said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot talks with colleagues and customers during a visit to Rattleback Records during a campaign stop on Feb. 24, 2023.

Afterward, Lightfoot held a short news conference, saying the area’s LGBTQ+ and immigrant communities were “very important” to her strategy in the campaign’s final days.

“To the folks that are undecided: if you care about making sure that our city continues to move forward, if you care about the core democratic values that we hold in the city, then you’re going to care about the fact that I am the only candidate on the ballot that can beat Paul Vallas,” she said.

As his campaign has gained momentum and as the only white candidate, Vallas has largely played it safe in recent weeks, visiting the Anti-Cruelty Society, where he posed for a picture with a dog, and attending the Get Behind the Vest pancake breakfast police fundraiser in Beverly, events that weren’t advertised to the press.

Vallas also stopped by an event last weekend for Black seniors in the 16th Ward, met with members of Englewood First Responders, attended the 2023 Black Creativity Gala and addressed the First Baptist Church in Roseland.

Mayoral candidate and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas greets people on Feb. 19, 2023, as he departs the Get Behind the Vest Pancake Breakfast at St. John Fisher Elementary School in Beverly.

But winning the appeal of Black voters has been more complicated due to the seven African American candidates in the race. Lightfoot and Johnson, in particular, have spent the final leg of the campaign trail in a heated tug-of-war to win over Black voters.

At a Woodlawn campaign stop last week, Johnson emphasized Black Chicago’s influence on progressive politics, saying “Black liberation” and “the clear consciousness of Black voters” paved the way for today’s sizable progressive movement. But he added that fortunes have waned in recent decades for Chicago’s South and West sides..

“Life has been incredibly difficult for Chicagoans, but particularly for Black Chicago,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of discussion about Black folks disappearing or being forced out of the city of Chicago. I like to refer to it as the ‘Negro Removal Act.’”

Lightfoot’s narrative of how Black neighborhoods have fared in recent times struck a far more optimistic tone as she attempted to make the case that she is the only candidate who has and will continue to deliver results. At a get-out-the-vote rally in Grand Crossing last weekend, former longtime U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush touted her leadership.

“Our grass is already green,” he said. “And in the next four years, our grass is going to be shining green.”

Yet undertones of racial politics have shaded the themes of hope in the Black neighborhoods where Lightfoot has campaigned. She and Black campaign surrogates have frequently asserted that their community cannot afford to split the vote — or else they would “give up” their “seat,” as 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin warned at a West Garfield Park event Feb. 18.

Lightfoot also singled out her two non-Black rivals, Vallas and García, telling a crowd in Austin, “You know what’s going to happen with them in charge. They’re never going to see the West Side.”

Biblical references have also appeared in Lightfoot’s latest messaging.

The mayor spoke at a West Garfield Park rally where she likened herself to Joshua, Moses’ successor who led the Israelites to topple the walls of Jericho.

“This is our Jericho moment,” Lightfoot said. “We are breaking down the walls that have held back the West Side, the South Side and other people in our city who desperately needed a fighter in the mayor’s office. … There are people who are going to fight back, because they think that this is their city.”

Lightfoot and Johnson have also had to contend with Wilson, a proven African American vote-getter who recently zeroed in on the closure of in-person church services during COVID-19, positioning himself as protector of the faithful.

At a church in East Garfield Park, a slate of Black ministers stood behind Wilson last week and praised him for defending churches that violated the stay-at-home order.

“I believe in religious freedom,” Wilson said. “The nerve to want to come into our churches and close them down. When I was sick, it wasn’t a doctor that saved me, it was Jesus that saved me.”

While he condemned the shutdown of churches — which, along with crime, was the main topic of his speech — Wilson questioned why cannabis dispensaries were allowed to stay open for business.

“She gonna close down the churches, but won’t close down the marijuana houses,” Wilson said. “In church, at least you come in walking straight. In a marijuana house, you come in … leaning all kind of ways.”

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson speaks after a mayoral candidate forum on Feb. 9, 2023, in Chicago.

Pot shops were indeed deemed “essential business” at the start of the pandemic — but that was a decision made by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the city and state sometimes clashed with conflicting COVID rules, but Pritzker’s authority on mitigations superseded Lightfoot’s.

Wilson wrapped up his appearance by saying, to raucous laughter, that he will order Chicago police to send cars and helicopters to Lightfoot’s house and escort her back to Ohio, where she grew up, once he gets elected mayor.

“Tell her I said it,” Wilson said, egging on reporters, while campaign adviser Richard Boykin quickly clarified that he was joking.

“So anybody who attack our churches, I take it personal, and I will fight you,” Wilson said. “We will run them out of here. We will run them out of the United States.”

King’s campaign trail included a stop at an Englewood coffee shop Friday to talk with undecided voters. When asked what her goal was for this final weekend before the election, King quipped, “Can I get about 50,000 more voters on my side?”

Chicago mayoral candidate Sophia King answers questions during a forum at The Hideout in Chicago on Feb. 23, 2023.

She’s now apparently down to 49,999 after she found a fan in Carl, a resident who declined to give his last name but was impressed by the candidate’s pitch.

“I think what sets me apart from, probably most everybody else is that I not only have experience, but I have a track record of really bringing people together to get things done,” King said, noting her advocacy for the $15 minimum wage as well as developments including the Michael Reese Hospital site.

On the rainy Wednesday before Election Day, five of the candidates trickled into a freewheeling youth forum hosted by the activist group Good Kids Mad City at Northwestern University’s downtown campus to court the elusive and underrepresented youth vote.

King, Johnson, Green, Buckner and Sawyer joined young people on stage, where they pledged to have paid youth advisers in their cabinet and to support the “Peace Book” ordinance the group authored.

Chicago mayoral candidate Kam Buckner answers questions during a forum at The Hideout in Chicago on Feb. 23, 2023.

The proposal outlines a structure of “peace commissions” for various neighborhoods where youth-led anti-violence groups would be tapped to negotiate resolutions to conflict and provide community enrichment. Sawyer, who also worked on the successful push for civilian oversight of the Chicago Police Department, is one of the ordinance’s sponsors.

Some of the young people expressed frustration it has sat dormant in City Council’s Rules Committee since July.

Activists and attendees quizzed candidates on their plans to address segregation, sexual violence and funding for violence prevention.

Buckner twice encouraged the crowd to remember who hadn’t come to the event. “If they are not here for you tonight, they probably will not be here for you for the next four years,” Buckner said.

King noted that, as alderman, she’s held events with and engaged with GKMC, something she’d continue as mayor. “If young people don’t have people to lead them, to guide them, to love them, chaos is the natural order,” she said.

Green, who at 27 is by far the youngest candidate, argued this makes him most qualified to represent them.

“Listen, the best thing we can do if we want to make sure that young voices are heard is to elect one,” Green said. “We got a lot of politicians that we continue to try to push to understand us and understand our values, and we can actually have somebody in the seat to understand what it means (to have) the connection to this generation and also the neighborhoods.”

Chicago mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green answers questions during a forum at The Hideout in Chicago on Feb. 23, 2023.

Even so, Green verbally tussled with 15-year-old Catlyn Savado over a recent social media spat between the two, after which the teen said Green “crossed a line” when he made a tweet calling her “Ms. Brandon Johnson supporter.”

Green at the forum apologized, and suggested that because of a generational gap between their times in activism, she might’ve misunderstood his record, such as when he rose to prominence during protests against the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

“I’ve been in this city doing the work since I was a young teenager, way younger than a lot of people here,” Green said.





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