With so much attention focused on the mayoral race, it can be easy to forget that there are eighteen smaller runoffs being held in Chicago Wards. Some of them seem to be foregone conclusions, but in nearly half of these races there’s a hard-fought, sometimes vicious fight going on between evenly-matched opponents. We’ll take a look at some of each this week with Aldertrack’s Jimm Dispensa. All four wards share something in common: their aldermen were forced into a runoff after failing to achieve 50% of the vote. Three of our featured wards this week hug the western borders of Chicago, while one luxuriates on the City’s east coast.
Ward 18: Lona Lane (I) and Derrick Curtis
Auburn-Gresham, Marquette Park
“Derrick Curtis, interestingly, garnered more votes than incumbent Lona Lane in the General Election,” Dispensa tells us, but that’s not the most fascinating part. “Curtis is her Ward Superintendent and is the Democratic Committeeman. He has deep campaign experience and was responsible really, for working for Lane – passing petitions out on the street. He has the endorsement of the Sun-Times, the Tribune and the Defender. A lot of organized mail, a lot of feet on the street. The signage in the 18th Ward is pretty extreme. It’s a tough race to call, but the incumbent may be in trouble here.”
Ward 37: Emma Mitts (I) and Tara Stamps
Austin, West Humboldt Park
“More than half of the precincts in 37 gave Emma Mitts more than 50% 0f their vote,” says Dispensa, “so she missed avoiding a runoff by less than a hundred votes. The challenger is Chicago Public Schools teacher Tara Stamps, daughter of famous Civil Rights leader Marion Stamps. And here, unlike in the 18th, where each candidate is being neutral with regard to their mayoral candidate affiliation, here you have a clear alignment between the incumbent and Mayor Emanuel, and a very clear alignment between challenger Tara Stamps and Chuy Garcia.”
“It’s in part because Stamps is one of the candidates that the CTU got behind very early with a lot of money,” he explains. “And Ald. Mitts, you’ll recall, is a supporter of the City’s first WalMart, is a supporter of charter schools, so you saw this sort of natural tension building once a CTU-backed challenger got in the race. Of the 41 precincts in the 37th Ward, I think Tara Stamps got more than 40% of the vote in just three of those precincts…It’s a very strong possibility that the incumbent wins here.”
Ward 41: Mary O’Connor (I) and Anthony Napolitano
Edison Park, Edgebrook, Norwood Park
“It’s a huge ward,” Dispensa tells us. “A huge number of votes came out of the ward, about 15,000 in fact. and if you recall, for about 20 years we had one Republican on the City Council back when we had partisan municipal elections. So Alderman Doherty retires after 20 years, puts his own person in the race in 2011 and that person narrowly loses to Mary O’Connor. Now, it’s not clear if Anthony Napolitano, firefighter who’s raised a good amount of money and got 43% of the vote in February, is aligning himself with Alderman Doherty. (Local columnist Russ Stewart says he definiely is aligned.) O’Connor got 48% of the February vote.
O’Hare noise has been a major battle in the Ward, with Napolitano accusing O’Connor of doing nothing about the overhead jets. He accuses the Alderman of being too close to Mayor Emanuel and his policies.
But does attacking O’Connor for her nearly perfect record of voting with Mayor Emanuel hurt her? “It’s risky,” Dispensa says, “Because it isn’t clear how strong that anti-incumbent mood is in the 41st Ward. The message from the incumbent alderman is, look, we have overcrowded schools in these neighborhoods, in part because middle-class families are choosing public schools, and I’ve managed to get scarce capital dollars to build additions to those schools, so I think that the incumbent is saying it’s not so much that I’m with the mayor 100% of the time. Our community has needs, and I’ve met those needs.”
Ward 43: Michelle Smith (I) and Caroline Vickrey
According to Dispensa, “Alderman Smith has raised about $550,000, the most amount of money for any incumbent alderman in a runoff. Her opponent, Caroline Vickrey has raised about $130,000. That’s second or third-most for a non-incumbent challenger. It’s Lincoln Park. It’s the silk-stocking ward. And the incumbent has the endorsement of the former 43rd Ward alderman, Marty Oberman, and former Alderman Chuck Bernardini, as well as the challengers who didn’t make the general election. But Caroline Vickrey has on her side former alderman Bill Singer.”
The 43rd’s reputation as a bastion for independent politics seems to have pretty much evaporated in recent years, he says. “Now it doesn’t seem to be so much about, who’s more independent. Now it’s more about, who’s reaching out to the community in the right way to talk about development?”
And the 43rd Ward is one of the places in Chicago where support for Rahm Emanuel is almost unquestioned. “72% of the 43rd Ward mayoral votes went to Mayor Emanuel,” Dispensa says. “You have both candidates saying we both support Mayor Emanuel.”
“Incumbent Michelle Smith got 42% of the general election vote, and Caroline Vickry got 36%. I think it’s more of an uphill battle for the challenger in this case. I’d say it’s a tossup with an edge toward the incumbent.”