“Undecided” is a Big Contender in the Chicago Mayor’s Race, and That’s Good

At present, one current clear frontrunner in the 2019 Chicago mayor’s race is “undecided.”

Polls with varying candidates – some announced, some who’ve been mulling runs, and some theoretical/wishful thinking – have been flying around since last week when Rahm Emanuel announced he wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over a meeting of the Chicago City Council in May, 2018. Photo by Aaron Cynic.

The latest pair of polls comes from one taken for the Service Employees International Union by Public Policy Polling, and another from a public affairs consulting firm Kivvit by Raba Research – first reported on by NBC5 and Crain’s, respectively.

The SEIU poll puts Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle – who is expected to announce the formation of an exploratory committee Monday – in the lead with 25 percent of respondents saying they’d vote for her. In the Kivvit poll, retiring Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who said he hasn’t ruled out a potential run, leads with 21 percent of respondents, followed by Garry McCarthy with 16.

Last week a flash poll conducted by We Ask America just after Emanuel’s announcement published by the Sun-Times had McCarthy at 16.8 percent, businessman Willie Wilson at 15.1 percent, and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas with 10.1 percent.

In all three polls, the most consistent contender was “undecided,” which 16.8 percent of voters said they were in the We Ask America poll, 15 percent said they were in the Kivvit poll, and 19 percent said they were in the SEIU poll.

So many names have been thrown into the field at this point it’s hard to know who has already announced, who’s said they might be thinking about it, and who are names of political bigwigs with decent name recognition that media has theorized about potentially running.

Last week both former governor Pat Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated they had no intention of running. Former senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarret’s name was thrown into the mix as well and got 6.6 percent support in the We Ask America poll, but since has stated she wasn’t planning a run either. Others who have said they wouldn’t “rule out” a run but haven’t made any kind of announcement include Congressman Mike Quigley, Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers, State of Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, and former Obama Chief of Staff Bill Daley.

An interesting footnote about the majority of political bigwigs saying they’re mulling a run but who have yet to formally announced is that a chunk of them were mentioned by Emanuel himself on Thursday in an interview with WLS.

“OK, here it is, so, look, if other candidates, just take Toni Preckwinkle, Bill Daley or Susana Mendoza, are thinking about this, it means they don’t think the other ones, who’ve been at this for five months, are a roadblock,” said Emanuel.

“They’re not — either on financial or intellectual or policy ideas – they have not created such an important speed bump to anybody else, at this point, getting in,” he said. “So that’s why I think we don’t know yet,” he added, before also mentioning Gutierrez.

It seems like so many opinions on who’s going to be Chicago’s next mayor hinge on what big name will jump into the race, which is why seeing high numbers of undecided voters is a good thing.

A big difference between the folks tiptoeing around potential runs and those that have announced is the folks who’ve been there from the start aren’t getting enough credit for jumping in, and people seem to be more interested in name recognition than they do policy positions or platforms. One has to ask – and hopefully voters are – where the heavy hitters were before Emanuel made his announcement.

It’s unfortunate that the issues seem to be taking a back seat here until the “right” name comes along. It also both smells fishy and is a disservice to those who’ve been fighting for change in the city through all of Emanuel’s tenure and before, that eyes seem to be more on a name rather than literally any of the challenges Chicago faced over the past 7 years and will continue to face into the next decade.

Without a doubt, candidates will have to show voters how they set themselves apart from the rest of the pack, but a more level playing field rather than a set of loaded dice is what Chicagoans need to face the issues at hand.

Aaron Cynic
Aaron Cynic