Chicago voters head to polls for mayor's race

AP News
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Posted: Apr 07, 2015 5:51 PM
Chicago voters head to polls for mayor's race

CHICAGO (AP) — Voters in Chicago's first mayoral runoff sent a message Tuesday as they chose between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia: The winner needs to pay better attention to them.

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, failed to win an outright majority in February, forcing the runoff. Since then he's been campaigning to persuade voters that a second term is the best way to help Chicago out of its serious financial problems.

But Garcia has criticized Emanuel's leadership as focused too heavily on the city's business core and not neighborhood residents.

Many of those heading to the polls Tuesday said either way, the election should be a signal.

"Hopefully he (Emanuel) takes heed of the runoff when he should have been a shoo-in," said Richard Rowe, a 50-year-old, who planned to vote for the incumbent.

That was Jesus Fernandez's hope too. He voted for Garcia but didn't think the challenger would garner enough votes to win.

"If he (Garcia) gets close, we might push Rahm to do something," said Fernandez, a 44-year-old window washer. "At least we push him a little bit."

Here are some other things to know about Tuesday:

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TURNOUT

Officials with Chicago's Board of Election Commissioners reported few problems Tuesday but said that turnout was light through early afternoon. A preliminary estimate showed roughly 28 percent turnout, though it was expected to climb through the evening rush. Election officials noted the runoff coincides with some spring break vacations.

Turnout in February was roughly 34 percent. In 2011 it was about 42 percent after Richard M. Daley announced his retirement after more than two decades.

The election was preceded by a surge in early voting. More than 142,300 residents cast early ballots, compared with nearly 90,000 ahead of the February election and roughly 73,200 before the 2011 election.

Both campaigns emphasized early voting, with the candidates casting ballots ahead of Tuesday.

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CHICAGO'S FIRST RUNOFF

The mayoral runoff is Chicago's first since the city adopted nonpartisan elections in the 1990s. Emanuel failed to win a majority in February's first-round election. He finished first in the five-candidate field, winning 45 percent, while Garcia came in second with roughly 34 percent.

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WHAT'S AT STAKE

Chicago's next mayor faces major issues, including the worst-funded pensions of any major U.S. city, upcoming contract negotiations with a teachers union that went on strike in 2012, a desperate need for revenue and a persistent crime problem.

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EMANUEL'S CAMPAIGN

Emanuel has tried to convince voters that his controversial actions — such as closing dozens of schools in 2013 — were beneficial. But in the process he's admitted his famously aggressive approach could have been softer. He's also tried to poke holes in his opponent's experience.

Emanuel said he's been reminding people of his achievements: lobbying successfully for full-day kindergarten and a higher minimum wage.

"People going to the polls are interested in Chicago's future," he told reporters a day ahead of the election. "They're voting for the basic things that they want for their families, their neighborhoods and their communities."

Emanuel spent Tuesday calling voters and greeting the lunch crowd at a historic diner.

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GARCIA'S CHALLENGE

Garcia's says he'll focus on every neighborhood in Chicago while Emanuel has largely paid attention to the wealthy and businesses. He's also played on frustrations with schools and city violence.

His campaign touted a "robust" ground game with more than 5,000 volunteers set to contact Garcia supporters on Tuesday. Garcia has said he's been willing to listen to residents when it comes to widely-criticized red-light cameras and noise complaints near O'Hare International Airport.

"We weren't supposed to be here, we were counted out by the pundits, by the polls," Garcia told supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a day ahead of the election.

On Tuesday, Garcia greeted commuters at train stops and at a brunch place on the city's South Side.

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VOTERS

Chicago's voters had a lot on their minds Tuesday, from class sizes to red-light cameras to leadership styles.

Tony Cox, a 65-year-old accountant, cast a ballot for Garcia.

"I just think Chuy is the right guy. He's got the personality for the job," Cox Said. "Rahm just doesn't have that pizzazz. All of our other mayors have had that, bigger than life. I don't understand why Rahm closed all the schools. He talked about wanting smaller class sizes and then he closed schools. It doesn't make sense. "

But Britany Wilson, 25, said Emanuel inherited problems and has done his best.

"I do not want Chuy as my mayor. I want Rahm as mayor," she said. "Everybody blames him for the schools but it is the parents fault there are bad schools."

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen and Sara Burnett at http://twitter.com/sara_burnett .