December 5, 2018


Calvin Coolidge, America's laconic president in the 1920s, described his laissez faire, do nothing economic philosophy as follows: "If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."

In Chicago, those "troubles" were stumbling down the road 10 to 20 years ago, during the Daley Administration (1989-2011), but very few ended up in the ditch. They have arrived.

Nevertheless, hope (or maybe denial) springs eternal, and a plethora of candidates have filed to run in 2019 for mayor (21), clerk (4), treasurer (4) and alderman (243) in Chicago's 50 wards, a grand total of 272 candidates, of which a dozen or more will not make it on the Feb. 26 ballot.

For the mayoral candidates, the operative adjective is "masochistic." The winner will be confronted with a heap of fiscal troubles, which can only be solved by heaping more taxes and fees on Chicagoans, a heap of pension troubles requiring $1 billion in near-term contributions, and a heap of ongoing crime troubles, which means a progression of much-publicized police shootings, gun violence, victims' lawsuits and trials. And of course a heap of spending troubles. The 2019 budget is $10.99 billion, up from $5.9 billion in 2011.

Political pain and suffering lies ahead for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's successor who, despite low expectations, will bear the blame when even those are unfulfilled. This much is clear: The city budget will continue to climb by at least $1 billion-a-year and people expect their city services, and budget cuts are not an option.

The 2019 mayoral term runs through 2023. Whoever wins next year can not expect a lifetime time job, as Emanuel mistakenly thought when he won in 2011. In fact, Emanuel is the new norm: Win, eke out a second term by spending upwards of $25 million, and then bail before getting trounced for a third term. Being mayor is a career-ender. The era of longevity, as exemplified by Richard J. Daley's 21 years and Richard M. Daley's 22 years, is over.

Not so with aldermen, who can plausibly claim to be both clueless and blameless. Chicago has a strong council/weak mayor system, but since the 1950s it is the mayor who dictates the budget, hires personnel and sets the tax levy. The only aldermen who have any input sit on the Finance Committee, where chairman Ed Burke rules. When Emanuel rolled out his "fairly painless" 2019 budget a few days before the vote, aldermen were their usual docile selves and approved it. Hence, they ARE clueless and blameless - and maybe even a tad useless.

MAYOR: Chicago has a population of 2,717,534 (as of 2016), of which 48.7 percent are white, 31.3 percent African-American, 29.1 percent Hispanic and six percent Asian. Since 2000 the city's whites and Hispanics have grown in number, while African- Americans continue their exodus to the suburbs. There are 1,503,350 registered voters, of which 1,115,664 turned out, or 71.1 percent, in the 2016 Trump-Clinton election. By contrast, turnout was 592,524 in 2015's Emanuel-Garcia runoff and 483,700 in the primary, or about 34.1 percent. In the 2011 primary, which Emanuel won with 55.3 percent, turnout was 594,734. Voters thoroughly understand that a wrong choice for mayor can have adverse personal and situational consequences, so expect a Feb. 26 turnout in the realm of 975,000, or 65 percent.

Of the 21 candidates, 12 are African-American, with four from the West Side or near West Loop, and eight from the South Side. Chicago has 19 black-majority wards, with a registration of 582,636, of which 14 are on the South Side. The sheer number of candidates will fracture and dilute the black vote, as the African-American candidates will focus on their base. The top-tier includes Toni Preckwinkle, Willie Wilson and Dorothy Brown, all South Siders, and Amara Enyia, Lori Lightfoot and LaShawn Ford, all West or near West Siders. The other six are inconsequential, but each has the potential to draw 1 to 2 percent of the vote. Cutting up the projected 35 percent of the black vote 12 ways will affect Preckwinkle the most, capping her vote among African-American voters at 50 percent or less, unless she gets the bi-racial support of 20 percent - barely enough to make the runoff. Enyia, who has raised $200,000, is clearly positioning herself as the millennial candidate, and may be just edgy enough to catch on.

Two candidates are Hispanic, Susana Mendoza and Gery Chico, and both are positioning themselves as "reformers" so as to appeal to white voters. Both have run citywide; both have some name recognition, but Mendoza has deeper roots among Mexican-Americans. Chicago has 13 Hispanic-majority wards, with a total voter registration of 328,122, or about 20 percent. As Garcia demonstrated in 2015, a Hispanic candidate can be competitive, and he got 258,562 runoff votes, or about 70 percent in the Hispanic wards. Emanuel got 332,171 votes, or 54 percent, winning the black wards. Mendoza and Chico (who has raised $1.09 million to date) will split the Hispanic vote.

Seven candidates are white, all men, but there are clear generational, geographic and ideological distinctions. Bill Daley is the throwback candidate, having raised $2.58 million to date. Paul Vallas is the safe candidate, a caretaker who will joyously hike taxes, absolve the aldermen of blame, and be out-the-door in 2023. He has raised $766,000. The only way he can win is in a runoff with Lightfoot.

Donald Trump received 135,317 votes and Bruce Rauner 135,029 votes, so there is a 15 to 18 percent conservative/Republican base in Chicago, which is augmented by first responders - active and retired cops and firefighters and their families, who feel besieged by the current environment. They will likely gravitate toward former Chicago Police Department superintendent Garry McCarthy, who has raised $895,000, but attorney Jerry Joyce, son of a former 19th Ward Alderman, will have Southwest Side appeal, siphoning votes from McCarthy. So will Chico. The white vote will be about 45 percent, and will be as fractured as the black vote. Expect the Bernie Sanders-type white liberals - up to 25 percent of the total white vote - and especially women, to opt for and fractionalize between Preckwinkle, Mendoza and Enyia, with Chico in the mix.

The threshold is 25 percent, but it is more likely that 20 percent will be enough. That means 225-250,000 votes in a 65 percent turnout. The outlook: Chicago voters are edgy. They know the worst is yet to come. And Daley, Preckwinkle, Vallas and Chico are all blasts from the failed past. They want somebody different. Expect a Mendoza-McCarthy runoff.

In aldermanic contests, the incumbent is always the issue. Voters don't necessarily care how their alderman votes, but they expect a high standard of service.

41ST WARD: There will be no runoff here. First-term incumbent Anthony Napolitano has voted anti-Emanuel and provided good service. He faces Democratic ward committeeman Tim Heneghan, a protege of Mary O'Connor, who Napolitano beat 9,702-9,087 in the 2015 runoff. The ward has 36,454 registered voters. Trump lost 14,081-11,480 and Rauner lost 11,639-9,774 - their best showings in Chicago. Outlook: McCarthy will run first in the ward, and Napolitano will get more than 55 percent on Feb. 26.

39TH WARD: Incumbent Margaret Laurino is retiring, and five candidates have filed: Samantha Nugent, Robert Murphy, Casey Smagala, Jeff LaPorte and Joe Duplechin. The ward has 31,921 registered voters, and Laurino beat Murphy 5,981-4,815 in 2015. A runoff is certain, and Nugent, the only woman in the race, who has a lot of insider contacts dating back to the Clinton White House as well as Emanuel, will be in it. She has raised the most money to date. Murphy is appealing to the Bernie Sanders base, which got him 7,103 votes in the 2016 primary. LaPorte is a Chicago cop. The 29-year old Smagala is an Energizer Bunny and a non-stop campaigner. Expect a Nugent-Murphy runoff.

40TH WARD: Smart politicians know when, like Laurino, to ride off into the sunset. Not Pat O'Connor, the ward's 36-year alderman and Emanuel's council floor leader. The ward has 30,688 registered voters, and O'Connor won 5,601-3,989 in 2015 over teacher Dianne Daleiden, who is running again, along with Maggie O'Keefe, Ugo Okere and Andre Vasquez. A runoff is assured, and so is O'Connor's defeat.

45TH WARD: Incumbent John Arena is the kind of guy who is hated by many, but loved by just a few more. He won the 2015 runoff 8,488-7,263, which means that in a ward with 34,120 registered voters, Arena's base is not a majority. Three challengers filed: Robert Bank, Jim Gardiner and Marilyn Morales. Can they amass a combined 50 percent? Not a chance. Arena will win on Feb. 26 with 55 percent.

38TH WARD: Incumbent Nick Sposato is a conservative who is hugely popular in his ward. He faces an opponent in Ralph Pawlikowski but will win with 80 percent.

33RD WARD: Incumbent Deb Mell avoided a runoff in 2015 by 18 votes. Not this time. She faces Katie Sieracki, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, who is running as a "democratic socialist," and Joel Zawko. The ward is increasingly Hispanic, so expect a Mell and Rodriguez-Sanchez runoff.

30TH WARD: It is said you can't beat somebody with nobody. Incumbent Ariel Reboyras is chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, which monitors police oversight. He is pro-Emanuel and generally pro-police. That may be toxic. He is opposed by Edgar Esparza and Jessica Gutierrez, congressman Luis Gutierrez's daughter. Expect a Gutierrez win on Feb. 26. Send an e-mail to or visit his Web site at