Reform Embraced in Chicago Mayor Race 02/17 10:08
CHICAGO (AP) -- Reform is not a concept usually embraced by Chicago
politicians known for their patronage, but after corruption charges were filed
against a powerful alderman and a court got involved in overseeing the city's
troubled police department, the word is now on the lips of the 14 candidates
running for mayor.
Those looking to succeed retiring Mayor Rahm Emanuel include veteran
politicians--- some with legacy ties --- businessmen, former prosecutors and
community activists. The Feb. 26 election will almost certainly lead to a
runoff: If none of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote,
the top two vote-getters will face off April 2. Although a nonpartisan
election, most of the candidates have links to the Democratic Party. The
Republican Party has virtually disappeared from the city.
The variety of candidates reflects the many issues facing Chicago's next
mayor: poor neighborhoods in need of investment, overwhelming pension debt,
low-performing public schools and a crime rate that is often pointed to as
among the nation's worst.
But the issue taking center stage is the need to change how business is
conducted at City Hall. For some that means an end to pay-to-play, paying off
influential politicians in order to do business in the city.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas has taken to showing up at
events with a broom, saying it's part of his mission of "sweeping corruption
out of City Hall."
"There's nothing Chicago politicians fear more than this broom," Vallas says
in a campaign ad that shows him sweeping cash off the floor of City Hall.
Nothing crystalized the reform issue like the federal fraud charges filed
last month against powerful Democratic alderman Edward Burke, a 50-year veteran
and former chairman of the City Council's Finance Committee. Authorities say a
wiretap on Burke's cellphone captured him pressuring executives of a fast-food
chain to hire his law firm in exchange for help with permits to renovate a
The corruption charges roiled the mayor's race. Four early favorites have
ties to Burke and have since tried to distance themselves.
Burke raised $116,000 for Toni Preckwinkle for her re-election as Cook
County Board president in 2018. Burke also contributed nearly $13,000 to
Preckwinkle's mayoral campaign, which she has since donated to charity. Burke's
son, in the Chicago tradition, was placed in a $100,000 county job, which he
has since quit.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza had Burke's backing in her climb through
Democratic Party ranks. She is also close to Alderman Danny Solis, who wore a
wire to help federal investigators build their cases against Burke.
Burke also is a longtime supporter of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Gery
Chico. Burke once said of Chico that there is "probably nobody more qualified
than he is."
William Daley has admitted, without being specific, to having "a political
relationship with Ed for years."
Daley is the son of the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley. It was the 1955
election of the elder Daley that prompted saloonkeeper and Alderman Mathias
"Paddy" Bauler to blurt, "Chicago ain't ready for reform yet."
The effort by William Daley and the others to distance themselves from Burke
has aroused the ire of candidate and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori
"It's like cockroaches --- there's a light that's shined on them. They
scramble. Initially, they're silent. Then, they try to say, 'Not me. Not me.'
Then, when they get caught, they finally stand up and do something," Lightfoot
Despite his family's history, Daley, whose older brother, Richard M. Daley,
held the office from 1989 to 2011, isn't deterred from proclaiming himself a
reformer. He proposes reducing the size of the 50-member City Council by more
than half. His media commercials note he served, like Emanuel, as former
President Barack Obama's chief of staff.
"Some can make the claim of being a reformer and others are blowing smoke in
the face of the people," DePaul University political scientist Larry Bennett,
who supports Lightfoot, said of the Democratic Party stalwarts running in the
Reforming the city's police department is a job the winning candidate can't
dodge. A consent decree approved last month by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow
Jr. is aimed at tightening supervision, improving training and fixing the
department's disciplinary system.
The decree is the most consequential aftereffect of the 2014 fatal shooting
of black teenager Laquan McDonald by former officer Jason Van Dyke. A video of
the shooting sparked demonstrations and resulted in Van Dyke's murder
conviction. Illinois' attorney general sued the city to force the court's
involvement after years of inaction by the City Council, which dealt with
systemic police misconduct in recent years by approving millions of dollars in
Finances are also a major issue the next mayor will have to tackle. The city
has seen increasing debt and budget shortfalls --- and must double the city's
contribution to four city employee pension funds over the next five years, to
Politicians who have run for mayor with reform as their platform have failed
in the past because many voters still believe the city needs someone who, with
a whisper here and a handshake there, can get streets fixed, a library built or
a development approved, notes political consultant Delmarie Cobb.
"Each of the candidates has baggage, some more than others," she said. "It's
going to require us as voters to look at the candidates and ... where they
stood on the issues. The voters have to ... determine when did this (belief in