Chicago runoff sees surge in early voting

By Alex V. Hernandez and Armando Silva

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia at the Reclaim Chicago Rally. Photo by Armando Silva | EXTRA

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]arly voting began on Monday and by the following day Chicagoan’s had already cast 21,012 early ballots. The Chicago Board of Elections released the numbers and it’s the highest number of ballots cast in the first two days of early voting for a municipal election.

To contrast, in the February general election a total of 11,638 early ballots were cast during the first two days of early voting. And in the 2011 race only 8,552 early votes were cast in the first two days of early voting while in the 2007 election, first city election with early voting as an option, only 1,441 early ballots cast during that same period.

Because of the increased turnout in the historic runoff race both incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia have doubled down on getting supporters to vote early or use mail in ballots, so as to avoid losing votes due to bad weather or busy schedules on April 7.

The Progressive Challenger

Garcia was endorsed by Reclaim Chicago at a rally last Friday. The event was held at McCormick Place, right next to where the planned DePaul basketball arena and a new Marriott hotel approved by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The two projects are expected to use about $55 million in public Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to build them.

“Under Emmanuel, Chicago is really two cities — The gleaming corporate wealth of the Loop that’s surrounded by dozens of neighborhoods that are starved of resources and plagued by the social problems that accompany disinvestment and disinterest,” said Garcia at the rally.

Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was endorsed by Reclaim Chicago at a rally last Friday. Photo by Armando Silva.

Garcia’s economic plan is focused on restructuring of city’s budget process and TIFs to be more transparent but is light on specifics of how he’ll attack Chicago’s pension problems.

Reclaim Chicago, a coalition of The People’s Lobby and National Nurses United, supported progressive candidates across the city in the Feb. 24 election. Their endorsement of the commissioner joins previous endorsements by the Chicago Teacher’s Union and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents workers in healthcare, property services and public services. Collectively these endorsements have allowed Garcia to promote himself as a progressive “people’s champion” to voters who otherwise had never heard of him before the runoff election and dislike Emanuel’s tenure as mayor.

Latest Polls

Yet in the latest poll released Monday Emanuel has 48.5 percent while Garcia has 32.1 percent. The robopoll was conducted on Friday and Saturday by Odgen & Fry and used a random sampling of likely voters. It has a 3.24 percent margin of error.

According to the poll results Emanuel’s heavily criticized attack ads continue to have an impact on the race and the mayor has successfully used his financial advantage to define Garcia to voters. Specifically, using Garcia’s own words to portray him as someone who would have made the same decisions as Emanuel on budget cuts and school closings.

On Wednesday the Emanuel campaign did just that, hosting a stunt press conference with Treasurer Kurt Summers and Ald. Brendan Reilly to reveal Garcia’s “hidden fiscal plans” for the city.

“Without a concrete financial proposal from Chuy, he’s hiding the ball from taxpayers and asking them to play a guessing game about where he really stands and how he plans to address our city’s immediate fiscal challenges,” Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers said.

The Emanuel campaign also claimed Garcia would tap on “an unrestricted ability to raise taxes” to pay the city’s bills if elected.

“Emanuel’s use of money is a good example of why the politician with the most money frequently wins,” said the analysis by Odgen & Fry. Yet the report went onto say voter turnout and the under-polling Hispanic vote were two factors that could still impact the runoff race’s outcome. This is because although there are more than 240,000 registered Hispanic voters in Chicago— an increase of 25 percent since 2008—they are consistently under-polled.

To address this disparity a poll solely focused on Hispanic voters was conducted by Latino Decisions and co-sponsored by Latino Policy Forum, National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities (NALACC) and Univision Chicago.

“No other poll conducted this season has aimed to connect directly with them or sought to gauge their perspective on critical issues,” said Jaime Dominguez, Ph.D., who teaches political science at of Northwestern University. “The poll provided a way for Latinos to exercise their growing and emerging political voice.”

A total of 406 Latinos registered to vote in Chicago were randomly called between Monday and Friday last week. The surveys were given to randomly selected phone numbers and conducted via live person over the phone (i.e. not robocalls).

The poll found that one of every five Hispanic voters surveyed are still undecided and that 61 percent said they will vote for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia while 18 percent plan on voting for Rahm Emanuel. The survey also found that, similar to many voters, Latino Chicagoans priority issues are education, violence, and job creation.



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