CHICAGO - The two political heavyweights in the race for Chicago mayor — incumbent Lori Lightfoot and U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia — filed their nominating petitions on Monday, setting the stage for a bruising battle and, more immediately, petition challenges that could narrow the field.
In addition to Garcia, Lightfoot picked up three more challengers — one the son of a former mayor.
That brings the mayoral field to 11 — for now.
Monday was the last day in the weeklong period for hopefuls to file for the February city elections. And Tuesday marks the first day for opponents to try to knock them off the ballot and dash those hopes.
Candidates seeking a spot in a lottery for the last ballot spot aim to file toward the end of the final day. Candidates seeking to have their names on the top of the ballot handed in their petitions last week as soon as the city’s election office began accepting them.
For City Clerk Anna Valencia and City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin none of that mattered. Both filed their petitions for reelection on Monday, but neither drew any competition.
Other mayoral candidates who filed on Monday were Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer; Chicago police officer Frederick Collins and Johnny Logalbo. But all filed before Garcia, so the Southwest Side congressman won the last spot on the ballot.
After turning in her nominating petitions Monday morning, a stack containing an estimated 40,000-plus signatures, Lightfoot flexed a bit as she explained her decision to skip the chance to get her name on the bottom of the ballot, a position some believe offers an advantage.
"It’s not about the last spot, the positioning on the ballot, as if you are an unknown and people don’t know you. They know who I am. And our voters are going to find us," Lightfoot said.
"So we wanted to get this done this morning, get our folks geared up and ready for the next leg of the journey."
Garcia, a relative latecomer who announced his mayoral bid earlier this month, filed his nominating petitions Monday just before the filing period closed.
And he did his own flexing, filing what an aide estimated was about 48,000 signatures in a stack decorated with his signature moustache logo.
Calling his petitions "challenge proof," Garcia said the signatures represented every corner of the city.
"This is an example of the type of grassroots support that our campaign is generating across Chicagoland, across ethnic and racial communities, communities of faith, we are excited," Garcia said. "This is a demonstration of the type of power and grassroots campaign that I will engage in. This is a winning campaign."
He said his campaign wasn’t going to prioritize challenging any opponents’ petitions.
Garcia might not need to challenge Lightfoot’s petitions.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he has assembled a team of election law experts and political volunteers to take a line-by-line look at the signatures that Lightfoot filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
"The fact that she filed at the last minute indicates a possible deficiency in the petitions. She stated that she filed on the last day four years ago. But she was an unknown challenger four years ago. She’s the incumbent mayor this time. And there’s no other reason for filing on the last day that makes sense other than she needed that extra week to pad her numbers," Hopkins told the Chicago Sun-Times
"That suggests that her petitions were insufficient. And if they were, it’s unlikely she was able to cure that in just one week’s time. So we’re gonna go over them carefully and see if they are subject to a challenge."
Hopkins is not aligned with any of the mayoral challengers, but he is so dedicated to making Lightfoot a one-termer, he’s willing to take at least a cursory look, then try to raise the money he needs for a full-blown petition challenge if there’s enough smoke to suggest fire.
"The last four years of her leadership have been disastrous for this city This is a failed administration. I just don’t think she’s earned the right to a chance for a second term," Hopkins said.
Monday’s five mayoral filers join the six who filed last week — state Rep. Kam Buckner, community activist Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Ald. Sophia King (4th) , former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson.
The top ballot position will be determined by a lottery that will include the names of those six candidates who filed last week.
The challenge period starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday and continues through 5 p.m. on Dec. 5. The goal is to disqualify enough signatures to knock a mayoral candidate below the 12,500 minimum required to remain on the ballot.
Signatures can be challenged for bearing the names of unregistered voters or registered voters who earlier signed another candidate’s nominating petitions. Petitions can also be challenged for containing bogus names, incorrect addresses or other patterns of fraud.
It’s a painstaking and potentially costly process that only mayoral candidates with deep pockets can afford to initiate, let alone carry through to conclusion. It’s normally not worth the trouble unless you have a high probability of knocking a potentially powerful opponent off the ballot.
After filing her nominating petitions, Lightfoot thanked the campaign volunteers who "literally scoured every corner of the city" to make sure she had a "sufficient number of valid signatures" to qualify for the ballot. She made it a point to single out "my friends in organized labor," including "the Plumbers and Carpenters" unions.
"With the filing today, one chapter of the campaign ends and another opens. The next thing that we’re focused on is continuing our effort to reach voters all across the city to remind them not only what we’ve done over the last 3 1/2 years, but what our vision is for the next four and why the only rational choice is to return me to office," Lightfoot said, with first lady Amy Eshleman at her side.
"I leave nothing for granted. I know it’s gonna be a lot of hard work, as it has been literally every day since I got sworn in. And we’re gonna keep fighting, fighting, fighting."
Lightfoot acknowledged her campaign has pulled her competitors’ nominating petitions and will decide whether to challenge her opponents "if we believe there’s a legitimate basis" for a challenge.
Four years ago, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle challenged the nominating petitions of then-Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and managed to knock Brown off the mayoral ballot before Preckwinkle’s landslide loss to Lightfoot in the runoff. During that same campaign season, Wilson challenged Green’s petitions and persuaded Green to drop out before the challenge was completed.
Veteran political operative Victor Reyes is now advising Garcia’s mayoral campaign. Reyes said he expects the Chicago Teachers Union to be most active during the challenge period in hopes of knocking Garcia and "as many African American candidates as possible" off the ballot to benefit Johnson, the CTU’s endorsed and handpicked candidate.
"You might end up with two or three of the third-tier candidates not surviving the petition challenge. … That still would leave you with four African American candidates, one Latino and one white. It’s still a very dispersed crowd, which is not good for the incumbent," he said.
In other races, as of the close of business Monday, 210 candidates filed for the City Council — 103 of them vying for the 15 seats that are either open or held by appointees because incumbents are retiring, running for mayor or have moved on to other jobs.
The South Side’s 21st Ward drew the most competition, with 14 candidates filing to take the seat now held by retiring Ald. Howard Brookins Jr.
Next was the nearby 6th Ward, where Sawyer’s decision to run for mayor drew 13 filers for the seat he is giving up.
And newly minted Council members appointed to fill some of those vacancies will likely have to fight to hold those seats.
Ald. Nicole Lee, appointed to replaced convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson in the 11th Ward, drew six challengers. Ald. Monique Scott, appointed to succeed her brother Michael Scott in the West Side’s 24th Ward, drew seven challengers. And Ald. Timmy Knudsen faces a challenge from five rivals in his bid to hold onto the Lincoln Park’s 43rd Ward seat, which he was appointed to after Ald. Michele Smith retired.
Five sitting alderpersons face no opposition: Hopkins (2nd), David Moore (17th), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Matt Martin (47th).