Yes, we just had a big election on February 22. And before that, we'd been through a brutal campaign cycle in November. But for voters in fourteen of Chicago's fifty wards, it's time to head to the polls for one last round.
In order to win citywide office in Chicago, a candidate needs 50 percent of the vote in her race. If no one wins that much in a given race -- if multiple candidates split the vote -- then the top two vote-getters head to a runoff. Fourteen candidates for alderman, including ten incumbents, failed to do so on February 22, meaning those races are to be decided today.
Despite heavy campaigning by the candidates in these races, turnout is expected to be pitifully low: the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners are predicting that fewer than one in four voters will show up to the polls, meaning that these races could easily be decided by hundreds or even dozens of ballots.
Still, the shape of the City Council hangs in the balance today. So HuffPost Chicago has put together a guide to the runoffs, complete with information on each race and a list of the power players who have endorsed each candidate, based on this data from WBEZ. (I) denotes an incumbent.
RACES TO WATCH
50th Ward: Berny Stone (I) vs. Debra Silverstein
The results in the 50th Ward could tell us a lot about the power of Rahm Emanuel; this is the only race where he's bucked the incumbent and backed the challenger. But it could just tell us that the Far North Side ward is tired of an alderman who has represented it for some 37 years, during which time he's been often caustic, occasionally racist, and sometimes asleep.
This battle has had no shortage of nastiness. Stone alleged that one of Silverstein's supporters was a terrorist, an allegation that's gotten him sued; he was also subpoenaed by the Board of Elections for funneling dollars to what the Tribune called a "secret attack fund." On the flip side, he claims that Silverstein's arguments that she's more "energetic" and the like are a subtle form of ageism against the 83-year-old incumbent.
Stone's an institution in the City Council. A win by Silverstein would be symbolic of the serious turnover taking place at City Hall. On the other hand, if she -- backed by the mayor-elect and her husband, a state senator and the ward committeeman, in a heavily anti-incumbent moment -- can't win, it's almost certain that Berny will be Alderman until the day he dies.
Stone endorsements: Ed Burke, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce
Silverstein endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
25th Ward: Danny Solis (I) vs. Cuahutemoc Morfin
Alderman Solis was less than 100 votes away from avoiding a runoff, winning 49 percent of the vote on February 22. But he's showing no signs of taking a win over challenger Morfin for granted. The community organizer, who also ran against Solis in 2007, has been hammering the alderman for being beholden to special interests, chief among them the Fisk coal-fired power plant that spews dense pollution into the ward. The Tribune's recent front-page story about lead pollution at the Perez School in the 25th, and the fact that Solis took around $70,000 in campaign cash from the two biggest sources of lead, have also been fodder for the challenger.
Solis responded by switching sides on an ordinance he'd opposed that would regulate Fisk, coming out in favor of it after February 22. He also agreed to donate $1,000 he'd received from the H. Kramer smelting plant to charity. And he came out with a pair of half-truthful mailers attacking Morfin on tax issues.
Morfin's been backed by progressives across the city, including vanquished mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle, who picked Morfin as his only aldermanic endorsement. Solis, for his part, has Rahm Emanuel and a number of heavy hitters at his back.
Solis endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke, Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union, SEIU (switched after Solis backed Clean Power Ordinance), Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
Morfin endorsements: Miguel del Valle, Chicago Teachers Union
20th Ward: Willie Cochran (I) vs. Che "Rhymefest" Smith
This race has garnered big-time local and national media attention not for any of the issues involved, but because of the identity of the challenger: Rhymefest is a Grammy Award-winning rapper who decided to bring his celebrity and his community activism back home to his Englewood ward.
'Fest is trying to change that, though. He's spent his entire campaign focusing on addressing the very real problems of the ward -- an epidemic of vacant lots and foreclosures, sky-high unemployment, minimal economic development, etc. "There's a lot that rappers do, we talk about the hood where we're from, how hood we are," he told Huffington Post Chicago. "In my hood, I live in a community with 28,000 vacant city-owned lots. I live in a community where you have to drive two miles to get fresh fruits and vegetables. I live in a community where they dump thousands of tires behind people's houses because they know people won't fight it."
The sitting alderman, Cochran, won his first term in 2007. He's focused on Rhymefest's lyrics, of which he says, "you use [your fame] to bring a scorn on our society and you promote get your gun, promote calling people bitches, promote treating people like that," though in the hip-hop community, Rhymefest is known as one of the most socially conscious rappers in the game. He also highlighted Smith's arrest record, which his opponent chalks up to youthful mistakes.
In this case, many of the big interests have stayed largely on the sidelines; even Rahm Emanuel was very late in endorsing in the race and apparently hasn't given any money to Cochran yet.
Cochran endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
Smith endorsements: SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union
46th Ward: James Cappleman vs. Molly Phelan
Here, a new alderman is guaranteed, as sitting Alderman Helen Shiller opted not to run for a new term. Cappleman and Phelan agree almost eerily on the two major issues in the Uptown ward, which they both repeated frequently in interviews with HuffPost Chicago: public safety and economic development.
How to go about ensuring those things is a matter of some dispute. As HPC reported last week, the two have exchanged barbs over the use of the ward's "menu funds," discretionary money that's given to each alderman for infrastructure improvements in his ward. Cappleman wants to use some of the funds for streetscaping, arguing that urban beautification is a powerful way to improve the neighborhood.
Phelan countered that Cappleman was more interested in "decorator flower pots" than in keeping the ward safe, and said that she'd use the funds to hier more police officers. Some saw a hint of homophobia in Phelan's language on the issue; for his part, Cappleman, who is gay, pointed out that hiring cops with the menu funds was illegal. Phelan backtracked, saying that she'd use the money for streetlights, cameras, and other security improvements.
Rahm Emanuel has stayed mum on the race, and Cappleman and Phelan have split a number of other endorsements. And given that they were only five votes apart (!) in the first round, this one should be good.
Cappleman endorsements: Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Sun-Times
Phelan endorsements: Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union, Chicago Tribune
6th Ward: Freddrenna Lyle (I) vs. Roderick Sawyer
Ald. Lyle has faced a stiff challenge from the son of former mayor and onetime 6th Ward Alderman Eugene Sawyer. As in so many races around the city, development is a central issue in this battle, with vacant lots an eyesore in the ward and candidates debating how best to address them. Sawyer also claims that Lyle has been out of touch with voters and lacks transparency.
Lyle endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, Illinois Retail Merchants, Chicago Sun-Times
Sawyer endorsements: Chicago Tribune
15th Ward: Toni Foulkes (I) vs. Raymond Lopez
Foulkes was the clear winner in the primary, garnering 44 percent of the vote to Lopez's 15. She has nearly all the powerful interests in the city aligned behind her candidacy, though again, in another common theme, Lopez says that the first-term alderman has been non-responsive to the needs of the community. He's hoping for an underdog win.
Foulkes endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Sun-Times
Lopez endorsements: Chicago Tribune
16th Ward: JoAnn Thompson (I) vs. Hal Baskin
A crime-plagued ward that spans Englewood, Back of the Yards and Gage Park, the 16th has been unusual in that one candidate has flat-out refused to go negative. Hal Baskin, the challenger, has attacked Thompson up and down for her record as alderman, but Thompson refuses to play. She simply touts her record, which includes diverting TIF funds to homeowners for improvements -- $12,000 of which she said went to Mr. Baskin's own mother.
Thompson endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
Baskin endorsements: no major group
17th Ward: Latasha Thomas (I) vs. David Moore
Moore is running against his old boss -- he worked for Thomas's first aldermanic campaign as field director. Now, he argues that she's been a stooge of the mayor and will continue to be one. Thomas, for her part, touts the many new grocery stores she's brought to the Auburn-Gresham ward, in a part of the city that's marred with food deserts.
Thomas endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke, Firefighters Union, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
Moore endorsements: no major group
24th Ward: Sharon Denise Dixon (I) vs. Michael Chandler
This race is a rematch of four years ago, when Dixon unseated then-alderman Chandler. A sign, perhaps, of the unpopularity of both candidates -- or maybe just of bitterness with city government in the impoverished ward: 67 percent of voters picked a candidate other than Dixon or Chandler in February. They'll have to make up their minds Tuesday.
Dixon endorsements: AFSCME, SEIU
Chandler endorsements: Firefighters Union, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
36th Ward: John Rice (I) vs. Nick Sposato
Rice was appointed to the seat in 2009, when longtime Alderman William Banks stepped down; Rice had served as his all-purpose right-hand man during Banks's lengthy tenure. Firefighter Sposato has suggested that Rice may have ties to organized crime in the 36th Ward, and argues that it's time for a change. Condo development is also a sticking point for Sposato.
Rice endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, AFSCME, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC
Sposato endorsements: Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union
38th Ward: Tim Cullerton (I) vs. Tom Caravette
The first member of Tim Cullerton's clan was on the City Council in 1871, and the family has held the seat for nearly 100 years since. This Cullerton was appointed after his brother-in-law, Thomas Allen left the seat for a Cook County Clerk judgeship. Predictably, he's campaigning on his ties to the ward, while his opponent is arguing that it's time for new blood.
Cullerton endorsements: Rahm Emanuel, Ed Burke, Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC
Caravette endorsements: no major groups
41st Ward: Maurita Gavin vs. Mary O'Connor
The 41st Ward was long home to the City Council's only Republican, Brian Doherty. With his retirement, the seat is now open, and Maurita Gavin is hoping to pick up the mantle of the right. She's Doherty's candidate of choice, but Democratic ward committeeman Mary O'Connor is hoping that the dirty R-word will bring her opponent down in the Northwest Side ward.
Gavin endorsements: Fraternal Order of Police
O'Connor endorsements: Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
43rd Ward: Tim Egan vs. Michele Smith
Alderman Vi Daley was no relation to the Mayor, but she, like so many aldermen, voted with his interests the great majority of the time. Now, Egan and Smith vie to replace her, and to preside over two major development projects in the ward. The Children's Memorial Hospital and A. Finkl Steel Plant are both leaving, and what to do with the spaces is a hotly contested issue. Egan supports a project with condos, offices, and a grocery store; Smith wants smaller-scale development.
Egan endorsements: Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union, AFSCME, SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, For a Better Chicago PAC, Chicago Tribune
Smith endorsements: Chicago Sun-Times
45th Ward: John Arena vs. John Garrido
Garrido's another (at least part-time) Republican contender for the City Council; if he and Gavin win, that would be an unheard-of two Republicans on the Council. Arena is a strongly progressive candidate, aligning himself with such liberal aldermen as Waguespack, Munoz and Moreno. He's been advocating for pension reform and an active development plan for the Portage Park-area ward, which was once a vibrant shopping district but has been stagnant in recent years.
Arena endorsements: SEIU, Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune
Garrido endorsements: Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Union