|A voter enters a polling location in downtown Chicago for citywide mayoral elections on Tuesday. — AFP Photo|
CHICAGO — Chicago voters went to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new mayor to tackle rampant gun violence, racial inequality and other pressing social problems in America’s third largest city.
An unusually wide field of 14 candidates included the progeny of a political dynasty who served under Barack Obama, the city’s first openly gay candidate and a little-known community organiser endorsed by two celebrity rappers.
Polls closed at 7pm, but the crowded ballot was expected to produce no clear winner, with a runoff vote all but assured for April among the top two vote-getters.
Voters have left little doubt they want the eventual victor to tackle the disparity in living conditions among the sprawling city’s diverse communities.
Some areas, such as the tourist-magnet downtown business district, are prosperous, while many predominantly African American neighborhoods struggle with economic decay and alarming levels of gun violence.
More than 550 people were killed in 2018 -- a higher number than the combined total in America’s two most populous cities, Los Angeles and New York.
"In Chicago we need to get a hold of our violence," voter Abel Leon said, adding that crime has been "a deterrent for people to come into Chicago and invest."
Chicago’s departing chief executive Rahm Emanuel was dogged by accusations that he focused economic development on the prosperous downtown core and mostly ignored struggling, minority-heavy areas.
The result has been a decline among the African American population, as black residents leave for better options.
"Definitely, I want a candidate who cares about my area or, at least if not my area, at least the city as a whole," south side resident Lateef Moody, who is black, said after casting his ballot.
Emanuel surprised the political establishment by declining to run for a third term, just as an incendiary police shooting trial was about to begin.
The murder in 2014 of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, by a now-imprisoned police officer, laid bare a deep distrust of government institutions among African Americans.
A subsequent federal investigation found a pattern of police abuse and misconduct.
"We need a lot more transparency in our police department," said 81-year-old voter Karen Hueter.
The sudden political vacuum from Emanuel’s departure brought forth a wide field of candidates who have identified economic and racial inequities and crime as top issues.
The Daley dynasty
The big question has been whether an electorate looking for change will find it in a familiar-sounding candidate.
Among the frontrunners is former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, the son and brother of two previous Chicago mayors who together ran the city for 43 years.
"The Daley legacy is mixed," said Evan McKenzie, political science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
The candidate’s father, Richard J Daley, led during the infamous street riots protesting the Vietnam War during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Richard M Daley was credited with revitalising Chicago’s core in the 1990s and 2000s, and criticised for cronyism in city hall.
"The Daleys were unwilling or unable to do anything about the Chicago Police Department’s long history of racism and brutality," McKenzie said.
Bill Daley is tied with 14 per cent of the vote with two others – Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle -- according to a poll by Change Research.
Lightfoot, vying to be the city’s first black, lesbian mayor, has fashioned herself as a reformer while Preckwinkle, the current chief of Cook County in which Chicago is located, is a former teacher focused on education reform.
Also running is Amara Enyia, a little-known community organiser boosted by an endorsement from Chance the Rapper and campaign contributions from Kanye West.
"It is a very unusual election for Chicago -- just the number of candidates that are running and the lack of clear frontrunner status," said Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation lobby group. — AFP