This article is part of a series called What the Gov, where BGA Engagement Editor Mia Sato takes reader questions and tracks down the answers. What the Gov will focus on the Chicago municipal elections, beginning with this short primer. Got a question about the candidates and the issues? Ask away.
In case you haven’t heard, Chicago voters will elect a new mayor in February after Rahm Emanuel’s surprise announcement that he won’t seek a third term.
But wait! There’s more. Also on Chicago ballots will be candidates for alderman of the city’s 50 wards and two lesser-known but important offices: city treasurer and city clerk, both of which are contested.
In the likely case that no single candidate for mayor will get more than 50 percent of the vote — which will trigger a run-off election in April — Chicago voters still have months of election-related coverage to… um… look forward to.
And even though the mayor’s race is garnering the most attention — especially around the crowded field of more than a dozen candidates — there are other contested races and issues that should be on voters’ radars.
In the meantime, here’s what else Chicagoans should be prepared to vote on in February.
The city clerk is tasked with keeping records and documents for Chicago, including legislation being proposed in the City Council, laws that are already on the books, city reports and more. If you want to access official city records, you’d go through the clerk’s office.
Also included in the clerk’s job duties:
- Selling vehicle parking stickers and residential zone parking permits
- Running CityKey, the municipal ID program in Chicago
- Running the dog registration program
- Acting as secretary while the City Council is in session
Clerks in Chicago serve four-year terms and current City Clerk Anna Valencia is running for re-election. Valencia took office in 2017 when former clerk Susana Mendoza resigned after being elected Illinois Comptroller.
Valencia has two challengers in the Feb. 26 election: Elizabeth “Betty” Arias-Ibarra and Patricia Horton.
The city treasurer acts as Chicago’s banker and investor, handling all cash and investments, including an $8 billion investment portfolio. The treasurer also sits on the city’s four employee pension boards.
Like city clerks, treasurers also serve four-year terms. Current Treasurer Kurt Summers announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in October, and three candidates filed petitions to run. They are:
- Illinois state Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin of Chicago
- Peter Gariepy, former Democratic candidate for Cook County Treasurer
- Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th
The office of the treasurer is independently elected as opposed to the Department of Finance, which is under direction of the mayor’s office. The two offices jointly are responsible for Chicago’s finances.
There’s already some buzz around the race for treasurer and various candidate platforms. Among the more novel ideas candidates are pitching: creating a public bank and local refinancing of student loans.
(Psst! Not exactly sure what a public bank would mean for Chicago? Why not ask us a question about it?)
The City Council is the main legislative body in Chicago. The City Council introduces and passes ordinances, adopts the annual budget, imposes taxes and more.
Chicago’s mayor presides over the council, which has 50 members — one for each ward — and all seats are up for election in February, though voters will only vote in their ward’s race. Collectively, more than 200 candidates have filed to run for aldermen, though that number will decrease as February approaches. Petition challenges, filed by candidates in an effort to boot rivals off the ballot, are currently being sorted.
Like the mayoral, clerk and treasurer races, council elections are technically non-partisan in a city where Democrats overwhelmingly dominate. Aldermen serve four-year terms.
Key issues will be different in each ward, and voters should follow coverage of important citywide topics like lead in water and housing affordability. Local news outlets like Block Club Chicago, the Daily Line, South Side Weekly and City Bureau do great neighborhood and ward-specific reporting.
If you found Illinois Votes and What the Gov helpful in the November elections, keep an eye out for the new Chicago edition coming soon to ilvotes.org.