Chicago turns out for ‘historic’ mayoral election with no Daley on ballot

Chicago election officials see increased turnout for the first mayoral election since 1985 not to have Richard M. Daley’s name on the ballot. Thirty-one percent of voters showed up last time.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor

posted February 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm EST

Chicago – Chicago voters heading to polling places Tuesday are encountering a rare Chicago sight: a ballot without the name Daley printed on it.

“It felt good,” said Anthony Forbes, lifelong Chicago resident, as he exited an apartment lobby in the city’s Rogers Park neighborhood, where Mr. Forbes said he has voted in each election since Mayor Richard M. Daley‘s first victory in 1989. “I voted for Daley for so long. But it’s not like I ever had a choice.”

For years, “King Richard” faced no serious election challenges, handily winning even as voter turnout dropped. He served one year longer than his father, Richard J. Daley, Chicago’s mayor from 1955 to 1976, who died in office. In 2007, the city’s last mayoral election, the younger Mr. Daley won about 70 percent of the vote – but only 31 percent of voters showed up to the polls.

Other historic aspects of Tuesday’s election:

  • For the first time in 64 years, the ballot lists no incumbent mayor.
  • None of the four leading candidates is Irish Catholic, the pedigree for every Chicago mayor except Harold Washington, Daley’s predecessor who died in office in 1987, says longtime Chicago political consultant Don Rose.
  • Extraordinary burdens face the new mayor: a $654.8 million deficit, a problematic school system, crime concentrated in economically marginalized neighborhoods, and a nearly $600 million pension obligation.

“This is historic in that a brand new mayor is going to be handed problems that the previous Daley could not even fathom overcoming – and which probably led more to his decision not to run than anything else,” Mr. Rose says.

All the candidates vying to succeed Daley – former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, former Chicago Board of Education President Gery Chico, former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle – have taken care not to criticize the current mayor directly.

They talk of the city’s budget difficulties as a product of the recession, not mismanagement. They criticize easier targets, such as Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis or Morgan Stanley, the financial service giant that now controls the city’s parking meters, after an unpopular privatization deal.

The fresh field of candidates may energize voter turnout, election officials predict. Last week, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners (CBEC) reported that of the 1.4 million registered voters, 73,251 people have already cast their ballots in early voting – about three times more than did so in 2007.

In the waning years of King Richard’s reign, only about 1 in 3 registered voters showed up to the polls. This year, CBEC chairan Langdon Neal said he expected “over 50 percent” of voters to cast a ballot.

So who will win?

Mr. Emanuel leads polling and has the biggest bankroll, but his victory – at least, his immediate victory – remains uncertain.

To win, Emanuel needs a majority. Many analysts here predict that a crowded ballot and divisions between neighborhoods may leave no candidate with more than 50 percent of the votes, in which case a runoff will extend the election to April 5.

Emanuel’s opponents have openly said they want a runoff, which would give them more time to criticize his campaign. For instance, as late as Monday night, Ms. Moseley-Braun filed a letter with US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, asking him to investigate her claims of election fraud.

Alderman Joe Moore, one of 50 city council members running for reelection this season, predicts that Emanuel will win outright, adding, “All the candidates had more than enough time to express their opinions and views.”

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