Candidates hoping to win county, state or congressional offices each filed thousands of signatures with election officials in Chicago Monday, with many crowding into the Pedway underneath the county building to ensure they have a shot at being first on the March 19 ballot.
But unlike in years past when aspiring candidates had to wait in line for hours among competitors, staff members, lawyers and candidates for other offices, representatives of the Cook County Clerk made quick work of the process, clearing the line in less than 30 minutes.
In the run up to the March primary election, the spotlight for Chicago-area voters will focus on races for state’s attorney, circuit court clerk, a key seat in the Illinois Senate to represent the city’s Northwest Side and two Congressional contests.
Clayton Harris III, an attorney and lecturer at the University of Chicago running for Cook County state’s attorney, was among the first candidates to file Monday, alongside Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is also the chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.
In the Democratic primary, Harris is expected to face former 1st District Appellate Court Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke. Because O’Neill Burke did not file Monday, Harris is assured of the top spot on the ballot. Former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd Ward) has announced a bid for the Republican nomination for state’s attorney.
Conventional wisdom holds that the candidate listed first on the ballot gets a bump, perhaps especially important in an open race after State’s Attorney Kim Foxx declined to run for a third term.
A spokesperson for O’Neill Burke said her campaign saw no need to fight for ballot position.
Running with the endorsement of Preckwinkle and the Cook County Democratic Party, Harris said he expected the race to focus on the implementation of efforts to make Cook County’s criminal justice more equitable for Black and Latino residents, including the elimination of cash bail as part of a law known as the SAFE-T Act, while reducing crime and violence.
“I expect it to be on the ballot,” Harris said of the law’s implementation. “The SAFE-T Act is making us safer with its implementation.”
While both Harris and O’Neill Burke supported the passage of the SAFE-T Act, O’Neill Burke has said that Cook County’s criminal justice system has not been working, and vowed to “vigorously prosecute cases and seek justice for victims.”
In the race for circuit court clerk, incumbent Iris Martinez will run for reelection. Martinez will face Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, who has the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Martinez won office in 2020 without the support of the party and has found herself at loggerheads with the progressive political organizations and labor unions that helped elect Mayor Brandon Johnson.
Before filing her petitions, Martinez said she was ready for a fight after hearing deep discontent from voters as she circulated her petitions.
“People are just not happy,” Martinez said. “We have to do better.”
After filing her petitions, Spyropoulos told reporters she would campaign on a platform that vowed to “increase accountability” and “end patronage” in the clerk’s office.
Martinez is also expected to campaign for state Sen. Natalie Toro, who Martinez helped appoint to represent the 20th District in the Illinois Senate. Toro replaced Cristina Pacione-Zayas, who resigned in May to become Johnson’s first deputy chief of staff.
In many Chicago wards, the alderperson — or his or her close ally — serves as the committeeperson to consolidate power and operations. In the 26th Ward, newly elected Ald. Jessie Fuentes will try to do just that, after defeating current 26th Ward Committeeperson Angee Gonzalez Rodriguez in February's City Council election.
Fuentes said she was moved to run for committeeperson after Toro was appointed to the 20th District seat instead of Graciela Guzman, who has the backing of the progressive political movement that elected Johnson.
“There needs to be much more transparency in appointments,” Fuentes said. “Committeepeople still have a major role to play in the Democratic Party.”
However, in the 12th Ward, newly elected Ald. Julia Ramirez will not run for committeeperson. Instead, Ramirez endorsed state Rep. Theresa Mah, who will face former Ald. George Cardenas, who is running again for committeeperson.
Cardenas resigned from the City Council in 2022 and is now a member of the Cook County Board of Review.
In the 13th Ward, voters will elect a new committeeperson for the first time since 1969, when former House Speaker Michael Madigan became the top Democrat in the Southwest Side ward, beginning his rise to power. Under indictment and facing trial in April, Madigan decided not to run again, making way for longtime ally Ald. Marty Quinn to take over.
Just before filing his petitions, Quinn said it was “exciting” to bring generational change to the 13th Ward.
On the other side of the city, the 45th Ward will also get a new committeeperson, as embattled Ald. Jim Gardiner will not run for reelection.
Gardiner was rebuked by Preckwinkle in October 2021 for using “misogynistic, homophobic and obscene language” and verbally harassing another alderperson, a city staff member and his own constituents. Gardiner was stripped of his positions on four Democratic Party committees.
In addition, the city’s watchdog found Gardiner retaliated against a frequent critic and political foe by directing a city employee to issue “unfounded citations” that could have forced the Jefferson Park man to pay more than $600 in fines.
Instead, the contest is expected to pit Michael Rabbitt against 41st Ward Democratic Committeeperson Joe Cook, whose home is now a part of the 45th Ward, which was redrawn after the 2020 census.
Rabbitt lost a narrow race for the Illinois House in 2022 after being endorsed by several progressive organizations and elected officials.
But the marquee contest on the ballot will have big ramifications for Chicagoans, with voters set to decide whether to give the Chicago City Council the power to hike taxes on the sales of properties worth $1 million or more to fight homelessness.
The last day for candidates to file is Dec. 4, and their opponents have until Dec. 11 to challenge those petitions.
Mail-in ballots are scheduled to be sent to voters on Feb. 8, the same day early voting is set to start.