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A Record 14 Candidates Vie To Be Chicago's Next Mayor


Voters in Chicago are going to the polls today to select a new mayor, and they have a whole lot of choices. I mean, a whole lot of choices - a record 14 candidates are running to succeed former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is stepping down after two terms in City Hall. There is one nationally recognizable name on the ballot and several who are widely known inside Chicago. But this is really a wide-open race to lead a city facing significant challenges. From Chicago, here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Downtown Chicago is booming, adding new jobs and new skyscrapers. But many of the city's predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods are struggling from decades of underinvestment. And it's under that backdrop that Chicago voters go to the polls today.

JESSICA GOSONG: I feel like this election definitely is revolutionary.

SCHAPER: That's 20-year-old Jessica Gosong, who is voting in the city election for the first time.

GOSONG: The voices of so many people that have been, like, left in the margins for the past couple years are finally having the opportunity to come and have their problems be attended to.

SCHAPER: Among those problems are violent crime, a lack of affordable housing, troubled schools and a police department under a federal court order to reform after decades of patterns of racial bias and excessive force. The latter is an issue that is especially raw among many voters here because of one incident in particular, the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The release of video of that shooting three years ago sparked massive protests and mobilized young activists. Among them is 29-year-old voter Lacreshia Birts.

LACRESHIA BIRTS: Laquan McDonald has shaped this election and has scared the existing politicians.

SCHAPER: Indeed, just days before the murder trial of the officer who shot and killed McDonald began last fall, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not run for another term, kicking off this campaign frenzy. The record 14 candidates include four women of color. Add to that a potentially powerful new voting bloc, young voters.

STEVIE VALLES: In 2018, the midterms, young people turned out at the highest rate that they had ever voted in 32 years.

SCHAPER: Stevie Valles is executive director of Chicago Votes, a nonpartisan group that works to engage young people in politics.

VALLES: If young people turn out and vote, it would - we could elect the most progressive mayor in Chicago's history.

SCHAPER: That's a pretty big if because in the past, young voter turnout has been exceptionally low in local elections. But that part about the next mayor being the most progressive in city history? Well, just listen to the ads.


BILL DALEY: But today, too many of our communities are left out of the loop's prosperity.

GERY CHICO: As mayor, the wealthiest will pay what they owe.

SUSANA MENDOZA: When will the endless cycle of corruption and violence stop in our city? When we stop electing people who made the mess.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #1: Toni is ready to take on the old boys' club...

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #2: ...From day one.

TONI PRECKWINKLE: Because I always have.

LORI LIGHTFOOT: The truth is they're all tied to the same broken Chicago machine - except me.

SCHAPER: From the last of the first those are Chicago mayoral candidates, Lori Lightfoot a former federal prosecutor; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; Illinois comptroller Susana Mendoza; former school board president Gery Chico; and former Obama White House Chief of Staff, Bill Daley.

That's right, another Daley - the brother and son of two mayors who ran City Hall here for more than four decades. There is a strong, "Not Another Daley" sentiment in many areas of the city, but Bill Daley has a huge fundraising lead and might only need 1 in 6 votes citywide to be one of the top two candidates who make it into a likely April runoff election. But then again, half a dozen other candidates might make it into the runoff too. This race is that wide open. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.