Chicago's elections on Feb. 22 will have some interesting twists:
- It will be to be the first time since 1947 that an incumbent will not be on the mayoral ballot.
- The City Council may see its biggest turnover since its longest-serving member, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), arrived in 1969. Ten incumbents are not running and it's conceivable there may be up to 20 new members when the next Council is sworn in.
- It will be the first modern serious mayoral contest that won't be decided by a primary election and then a general election. In Chicago, mayoral candidates now run in a nonpartisan race, which will be held on Feb. 22. There will be a run-off if no candidate attracts 50 percent plus one of the vote. Had that system been in place when Harold Washington first ran, he would have faced Jane Byrne in a run-off instead of Republican Bernard Epton in the general election.
- Counting Michael Bilandic as an honorary Irishman (because he was from the 11th Ward), it will be the first time since 1933 - outside of a break from 1983 to 1989 - that the Irish will not control City Hall.
Those were some of the insights about the upcoming municipal election voiced by a panel of authors addressing the Society of Midland Authors Jan. 11 at the Cliff Dwellers Club in Chicago. The panelists were Burke (co-author of histories on Chicago politics and the Chicago police); University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor and former Ald. Dick Simpson, author of Rogues, Rebels, and Rubber Stamps: The Politics of the Chicago City Council, 1863 to the Present; James L. Merriner, whose books include the political history Grafters and Goo Goos: Corruption and Reform in Chicago, 1833-2003, and Richard Lindberg, whose most recent title is The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago's Democratic Machine.
None of the panelists thought it likely that any mayoral candidate will get enough votes on Feb. 22 to win, making a run-off likely.
"In this particular case, any candidate is going to have to get the support of at least one group beyond their own racial group to be able to be elected mayor," Simpson said.
As for Burke, he made it clear where he stands in this election. When asked by moderator Robert Loerzel, president of the Midland Authors, Burke said he would be "hard-pressed not to be for Gery Chico."
"Gery Chico worked for me when he was going to law school at night," Burke said. "His family comes from the 14th Ward. He has been a supporter of mine for 30 years. And I have a ward that is 85 percent Hispanic. ...I don't think that there is any question about the fact that I have been with Gery. I circulated his petitions - my brother [Dan Burke], who is in the Legislature, enjoyed the support of Gery Chico and all the people [who] supported Gery Chico. ... Am I going to turn my back on those folks now?"
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