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What Chicago Voters Can Look Forward to in a Very Crowded Mayoral Election

First, “Petitions are the first test of a campaign’s organization.”

Chicago’s mayoral election is on Feb. 26, 2019. (Paul Spinelli via AP)

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

With the Chicago mayoral election approaching, ProPublica Illinois reporter Mick Dumke and Chicago Reader reporter Ben Joravsky talked City Hall politics at their monthly show, “First Tuesdays,” at the Hideout, a nightclub just northwest of downtown. Their guests: Alderman Ricardo Muñoz, from the 22nd Ward, who is retiring after 25 years in office, and veteran political consultant Kitty Kurth.

During the roughly 75-minute show, they discussed the Feb. 26 election to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who decided not to run for a third term; the importance of candidates gathering the required ballot petitions to qualify for the election; and the realities of what Chicago aldermen actually do.

Here are four takeaways from Tuesday’s show, edited for clarity and length.

“Petitions are the first test of a campaign’s organization”

In Chicago, candidates for mayor need at least 12,500 signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, and it’s a political tradition for candidates to challenge their opponents’ petitions, as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is doing with Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza.

Kurth said if candidates can’t follow the rules for petitions, they probably can’t manage the city.

Kurth: “If a candidate walks in my office for the second time and hasn’t read the rules, he or she is never walking in my office the third time. … There’s two sets of rules. The city rules are for how to get on the ballot. The state rules are for money — all of your filings, and how to raise money, how you can spend money, how you have to report it. These are things that someone running for office, someone who is going to govern us or legislate, I think should be able to do.”

“Imagine it’s Wednesday after the election. You won. What are you going to do differently?”

Muñoz said when potential candidates ask for his support, he asks what they’ll do if they win. They better have an answer.

Muñoz: “When somebody comes into my office and says “Rick, I’m thinking of running for this, … I always start with this: ‘Close your eyes. Imagine it’s Wednesday after Election Day — you won. What are you going to do differently?’”

“If they can’t answer the question right there, right on the spot, I won’t even engage in a petition conversation. I won’t even engage. Folks need to know that they’re running not because they hate the incumbent, but because they’re going to believe in this, believe in that, do this, do that.”

Kurth: “I have a similar process. … When somebody walks into my office and says they want to run for office, I ask them why are they running. And if they can’t answer it in three sentences or less, then I make them go home and write down all the reasons they’re running. If it’s 10 pages, that’s fine, but we’re going to edit it down so it fits on a 3x5 card so you can have that conversation with the voter at the door.”

“People vote when they are pissed off”

In the 2015 municipal elections, voter turnout was around 34 percent. It jumped to 41 percent in the runoff later that spring between Emanuel, the incumbent, and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Kurth: “People vote when they are pissed off. People vote when they don’t like something. Everybody who stayed home, pretty much those were also votes for the status quo. People come out and vote when they’re mad. If people really, really, really didn’t like Rahm, they would come out and vote against him.”

“Only about 10 percent of the job [is policy]”

And in an aside to the discussion about the mayoral election, Muñoz talked about his role as a Chicago alderman.

Muñoz: “The city of Chicago has been trained to expect their aldermen to be housekeepers. We pick up the garbage, trim the trees, make sure the lights are on, and make sure the snow gets plowed. … I deliver garbage cans, for crying out loud. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. … So what we’re talking about here is legislation, we’re talking about policy, which is in my book only about 10 percent of the job.”

Before the show wrapped up, Joravsky asked the crowd of about 75 people how they planned to vote with a show of hands. Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot both garnered substantial support. Who drew the most? The undecideds.

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