Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Chicago Mayoral Primary 2019, a/k/a CLUSTERF*** 2019

Fourteen candidates for mayor, and 16 days until the primary election. While I’m sure there are a fair number of Chicagoans who have made up their minds, for so many, this process is untenable. But it’s all we’ve got.

So much of the problem is about the short window that was created by Rahm Emanuel’s late-in-the-game decision to not seek a third term. So we’re stuck with having to process a lot of information in a relatively short amount of time. This doesn’t quite compare to the large primary fields for president that sometimes crop up (like what we’re seeing for the Democrats for 2020). This is because in a national primary process, as the candidates wind their way through the states, elections, gaffes, and funding winnow the field down into something more manageable. That ain’t happening here.

Which puts voters in a bind. I think the local press is, generally, doing an admirable job of trying to cover such a wide array of candidates, aided by various controversies that have given extra flavor to the race (Burke, Solis, Daley’s insurance exam, Enyia’s tax problems, etc.). We’ve had forums and debates, although both are unwieldy with such a large group. Despite these things, it’s a lot of information to process.

Even worse, in an election where getting 50 percent plus one of the vote is impossible, making a run off inevitable, how one votes is baffling. If you vote for the candidate with whom your beliefs align the most, are you throwing your vote away? But if you want to vote tactically, to ensure that your vote goes to one of the two candidates who will be running off, can you do so intelligently, where there is so little polling, and the polling that can be done is severely impacted by the margin of error? It’s kind of like voting with a blindfold.

One thing that is easy to do, is to narrow the choices. First, eliminate the candidates who can’t be taken seriously. For example, I’m seeing ads for Bob Fioretti, who barely made a dent in his prior mayoral run. Whoever gave Fioretti money must also enjoy lighting piles of money on fire. La Shawn Ford, Neal Sales-Griffin, Jerry Joyce, and John Kozlar don’t have a path to building a constituency, and if any of them got more than three percent of the vote, it would be a major surprise.

Gerry McCarthy was an intriguing candidate before Emanuel dropped out, because he seemed like he could be a spoiler by flanking Rahm from the right. In an expanded field he’s a waste of space. Which is what he is in real life, except here, he’ll siphon off a few percent of the vote from the field.

Okay, I’m down to eight. The next tier is comprised of two candidates who I think can break five percent, but I can’t vote for. First, there is Amara Enyia. She was a guest reader at CHIRP Radio’s The First Time live lit series this past fall (note: I’m a CHIRP volunteer, for what it’s worth), and my word, she has charisma. And I credit her for telling a story that wouldn’t be one that I’d expect from a politician.

And Enyia really isn’t a politician. She has an interesting resume, but no real accomplishments that seem to make her qualified. Moreover, her problems with campaign finance reporting and her tax returns, are further indications that she’s not ready for prime time. These aren’t lifetime disqualifiers. After all, Harold Washington had some tax problems before he ran for mayor. Washington, however, had a record of public service. That’s what Enyia needs. After this election, she needs to devote herself, at some point, to seeking a lower office, getting elected, and building up experience that will couple with her obvious intellect.

Then there’s Willie Wilson. I think if he had secured Dorothy Brown’s endorsement, his odds would have gone up considerably, because that would have consolidated a certain segment of the African-American vote that I think he and Brown reach (older, church going)(and an aside - Enyia should not have accepted Brown’s endorsement, because it undercuts her message). Wilson doesn’t have many defined ideas, is more conservative than people realize, and is well-intentioned. He has nothing to offer as the mayor. His vote total may end up surprising, but he’s not getting to the finals.

I probably should have put Paul Vallas before Enyia and Wilson, but I’m too lazy to cut and paste at this point. Vallas is the darling of the centrist pundit class, with a mixed record of accomplishment. There is no doubt that he’s a bright guy, but one of those annoying ones who seems to think he’s the smartest guy in the room, and when you think you’re the smartest guy in the room, that’s a sure sign that you’re not. Still, Vallas has some creative ideas. He’s a wasted voice, but he might be a decent mayor.

Gerry Chico is a guy, he’s been around, he’s raised some money, he has some ads, he won’t win. Next.

So we get to the final four. Lori Lightfoot just got the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times, and it’s well worth reading, as they made a really good case for her. I think she has the skill set to run the city, and the smarts to process the learning curve. As with all of the candidates, I’d like more specifics on how she will handle the financial time bomb the city faces, and what she will do about underattended schools where we are really hurting children. The big question is whether Lightfoot’s endorsement and television ads can give her a chance. Progressives haven’t really rallied around her the way she needs to get the 15 percent, roughly, to get to a run off. Maybe progressives don’t make up 15 percent, roughly, of the Chicago electorate.

As for Bill Daley, I wouldn’t suggest anyone vote for him. His ads have noted how he wants to help neighborhoods, curtail crime and violence, and get the city back on its feet. Of course, no person is more responsible for the segregation in this city than his father. And his brother was Cook County State’s Attorney during the bulk of the Burge torture regime (and allegedly was told about this by a police chief, and Richie looked the other way). Then Richie became mayor and managed Chicago’s finances into the ground. Every major problem Bill needs to solve was caused (or at least exacerbated) by his family.

Unfortunately, I think Daley will be in the final two. And he may live to regret it. Because the attack ads will write themselves. If either Lightfoot, Preckwinkle, or Mendoza is the other finalist, Daley is going to find: 1) every single person who wants a real change united against him, and, 2) his family history is going to become a nightmare. Yet he still could win in a runoff, which is depressing.

Finally, polls are bit dodgy, but I think Toni Preckwinkle and Susana Mendoza are well positioned to take the other runoff spot. The biggest problem they have is their diminished standing due to ties to criminal politicians. Mendoza is further impacted by her late entry into the race and less-than-spectacular fundraising. While neither candidate is exciting, I do think they have the skill set to handle the mayor’s office, Preckwinkle more obviously than Mendoza, but Susana is more than capable.

This is where it gets messy tactically. Do I vote for Lightfoot, knowing her odds are less than Preckwinkle and Mendoza, hoping that others elevate her to the runoff? Or do I choose between Toni and Susana? But how do I do so? It’s pretty much a crapshoot.

I was hoping writing this all out would help me figure out what I want to do. It has helped me narrow things down, but I’m still at a loss on who to vote for. Good luck to everybody.

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