Federal prosecutor advances to runoff for Chicago mayor

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal prosecutor running as an outsider advanced Tuesday to a runoff for Chicago mayor, a transitional election for a lakefront metropolis still struggling to shed its reputation for corruption, police brutality and street violence.

Lori Lightfoot, who could become the first African-American woman to lead the nation’s third-largest city, was the top vote-getter in a field of 14 that included a member of the Daley family that has dominated Chicago politics for much of the last six decades. She advances to an April 2 runoff against the candidate with second-highest vote.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel ‘s decision not to seek a third term drew some of the biggest names in state and municipal government as would-be successors, along with some political newcomers with strong support. But none figured to get enough votes to avoid a two-candidate faceoff.

Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election, said turnout by late afternoon was around 27 percent of registered voters. The record low for a February mayoral election was 33.8 percent in 2007, when Emanuel was first elected.

“It appears that some voters either just disengaged or are not willing to make a decision until they know who’s in the runoff, assuming there is a runoff,” Allen said.

William Daley, 70, a former U.S. Commerce secretary who (like Emanuel) served as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, has never held major elected office but features the most famous surname in the race. His father, Richard J. Daley, and brother, Richard M. Daley, held the city’s top job for nearly 43 years of a 55-year span before Emanuel took the oath in 2011.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and attorney Gery Chico, who has headed several city departments including the Board of Education, round out the highest-profile candidates.

Although a nonpartisan election, the candidates are all attached in varying degrees to the Democratic Party. The Republican Party has virtually disappeared from the city.

“A problem is the absence of the Republican Party offering a different choice and different ideas,” said DePaul University political scientist Larry Bennett. “Those running are all Democrats, offering odd claims of doing something different.”

The variety of candidates reflects the many issues facing Chicago’s next mayor: poor neighborhoods in need of investment, overwhelming pension debt, low-performing public schools and a crime rate that is often pointed to as among the nation’s worst.

However, an issue that took center stage in the contest is the need to change how business is conducted at City Hall. For some that means an end to pay-to-play, paying off influential politicians in order to do business in the city.

Since 1972, more than two dozen city aldermen have been convicted of crimes related to official duties.

Last month, Edward Burke, a 50-year veteran and former chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, was indicted after authorities said a wiretap on his cellphone captured him pressuring executives of a fast-food chain to hire his law firm in exchange for help with permits. Preckwinkle, Mendoza, Chico and Daley all sought to distance their ties to Burke, who was easily leading his race for re-election on Tuesday.

Reforming the city’s police department is a job the winning candidate can’t dodge. A consent decree approved last month by U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. is aimed at tightening supervision, improving training and fixing the department’s disciplinary system.

The decree is the most important consequence of the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by former officer Jason Van Dyke. A video of the shooting sparked demonstrations and resulted in Van Dyke’s murder conviction . Illinois’ attorney general sued the city to force the court’s involvement after years of inaction by the City Council, which dealt with systemic police misconduct in recent years by approving millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements.

Emanuel’s popularity plummeted after release of the McDonald shooting video and he eventually decided not to seek re-election to a third term, leading to the scramble to succeed him.

Voters will also choose among candidates for the 50-member City Council.

The city has a tradition of having a dominating mayor and a City Council that isn’t aggressive in serving as a separate branch of government, according to Bennett, the political scientist. That has meant the performance of various city departments hasn’t received adequate scrutiny.

By HERBERT G. McCANN , Associated Press