With 8 Declared Candidates, Chicago’s Mayoral Race Heats Up

Chicago residents aren’t used to having a lot of options when an incumbent mayor is running for re-election, but that’s not the case as Mayor Lori Lightfoot seeks a second term.

So far eight candidates have declared they’re running for mayor next year. The list features: state Rep. Kam Buckner, Chicago police Officer Frederick Collins, community activist Ja’Mal Green, Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward), Ald. Ray Lopez (15th Ward), Ald. Roderick Saywer (6th Ward), former CPS CEO Paul Vallas and businessman Willie Wilson.

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Both Vallas and Wilson ran and lost to Lighfoot in the last mayoral election

King declared her candidacy on Wednesday in a highly-produced video.

“Violence is not an abstract problem to me. I have seen the pain it causes way too many times. There’s no question about it,” she says in the video. “We have to hold the people who commit violent crimes accountable. And we have to hold our leaders accountable too.”

Lightfoot, Chicago’s first Black woman and first lesbian mayor, has at times complained that she’s received a bad rap, or extra scrutiny, because of her race and gender.

With King as the second Black woman in the race, that may not go as far.

Lighfoot’s campaign indicated in a statement from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), who chairs the City Council’s Black Caucus, that King’s entry will further divide the Black vote.

“Black Chicago is at the forefront of growth and opportunity, and we haven’t seen or felt this level of commitment from the Mayor’s Office since the days of Harold Washington. We must come together and remain united,” Ervin says in the statement. “While everyone has the right to run, with so many Black candidates in the race and more expected to enter, we run the risk of losing it all. As a community, it behooves us to come together and figure this out or end up walking away with nothing.”

Political consultant John R. Daley, who was the political director for Bill Daley’s campaign in the 2019 race, said this early in the race, all of that opposition against Lightfoot may give the impression that she is weak. But he said Chicago has proven time and again that incumbents have an advantage.

“Just as the mayor did herself (in 2019) someone can catch fire. And she did it herself without a tremendous amount of money, but really told a story and said it consistently. So there’s that possibility, where you have a ton of elected officials who are very capable, who could possibly be in that situation,” Daley said. “I think there’s a possibly even more interesting scenario where … the mayor could get over 51% and this could be over in the first round.”

The contest is Feb. 28 and if needed, a run-off would take place April 4.

Roseland resident Jaylin McClinton has been involved in politics since he served as an election judge when he was in high school. Now a law school graduate, McClinton’s fresh off a failed attempt at running for the Cook County Board.

“For me having just run a very intense campaign over the last eight months, Chicago is in trouble. In a lot of ways. And I think quite frankly the issues that people care about are the bread and butter issues that we talk about on a daily basis,” McClinton said. “Having access to quality health care, making sure that neighbors are safe and dealing with public safety, which is something that continues to be a challenge in this city. And also the quality of life – making sure that people have livable wages, and jobs and job opportunities to help get their families ahead.”

McClinton says he’s taking a “wait and see approach” at this point, and isn’t decided on any of the candidates yet, including the mayor.

He said Lightfoot has done some good things, but he doesn’t like her combative approach.

Lightfoot herself made a nod to this criticism in her June re-election announcement video.

“I’ll be the first to admit I’m just not the most patient person. I’m only human and I guess sometimes it shows. But just because some may not always like my delivery, doesn’t mean we’re not delivering,” Lightfoot said.

That defense hasn’t stopped her critics, who came out with fresh critiques on Wednesday as Lightfoot presented her new budget plans, which include a 2.5% property tax increase.

“Before Mayor Lightfoot suggests imposing even higher property taxes in our city, she should conduct a thorough fiscal audit. That won’t happen,” Buckner said in a statement.

Green said it’s irresponsible to further financially press Chicago families. 

“Chicago taxpayers are tired of the budget being balanced on their backs at the hands of fiscal incompetence from the Mayor’s office,” Green said in a statement.

Wilson, meanwhile, ripped Lightfoot for crime on CTA trains, and said he will put more police and cameras on trains.

“People are getting robbed, people are getting killed. It’s terrible,” he said. “The elected officials of Chicago, including the mayor of the city of Chicago, in my opinion, is just totally — I’ll say it again — is just totally out of touch.”

Lighfoot’s camp said they are taking nothing for granted, but believe the mayor has done well in difficult circumstances.

One campaign insider also said “the more the merrier,” as the more rivals, the more split the vote could become.

Lightfoot could soon find herself with even more opposition.

“This race will evolve. You’ll have new people coming in. There’s rumor mills of course,” Daley said.

Despite saying in November that he would take on Lightfoot, Chicago police union president John Catanzara this week told ABC-7 that he will instead focus on re-election as the local FOP lodge leader. U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and former CPS chief Arne Duncan previously said they won’t run.

There’s also talk that the Chicago Teachers Union will soon field its own candidate. In turn, business interests may want to get behind someone else.

Former Chicago Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland and former Gov. Pat Quinn are each exploring running for mayor.

Spokesperson Mike Stambaugh said Frydland is on a listening tour and “putting together the pillars of what she would run on … she just really wants to see our city back on the right side.”

Quinn said he is frustrated that Lightfoot has not fulfilled her promise to institute mayoral term limits.

“People  want somebody to be mayor who has actually run something big,” Quinn said. “I’m not perfect, but I think I got the job done for six years in a positive way (as Illinois’ governor). Chicago’s in a crisis and it needs a rescue – so I’m definitely open minded to exploring everything.”

Candidates can start begin collecting their 12,500 necessary petition signatures starting Aug. 30, and have until Nov. 28 to submit them.

Political insiders say to expect those on the cusp to make a call around Labor Day.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinic 

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