Rahm Emanuel became Chicago’s next mayor with a blowout victory in the Feb. 22 election, taking 55 percent of the vote, compared with a mere 24 percent by runner-up Gery Chico. However, in a disheartening display of voter apathy, only 41 percent of registered Chicago residents participated in that decision.
At a time when millions of people across the Middle East take to the streets and fight for a right to vote, it’s sad to see the majority of Chicagoans take that same right for granted, especially in such an important election. It was a momentous event in Chicago history, marking the first time in decades long-term Mayor Richard M. Daley did not seek re-election and the first time in recent memory anyone other than a Daley had a realistic chance at office. After hearing Chicagoans complain for years about Daley’s unending reign as the “King of Chicago,” it was truly disappointing so few people were willing to come out to the polls once the opportunity to elect a new mayor finally arose.
Emanuel’s celebrity factor during the campaign probably played a big role in creating voter apathy. He dominated all election coverage, particularly after his residency controversy. Emanuel managed to be the center of attention throughout the campaign without ever taking much of a solid stance on anything. It seems clear he will make some sweeping changes to city government. But beyond a few vague promises to cut spending and reduce the deficit, it’s unclear what any of those changes will be. He had an overwhelming advantage in terms of campaign funds, having raised more than $11 million for his mayoral bid, while Chico and Carol Moseley Braun raised just above $2 million and $446,000, respectively. Many people assumed he had the election in the bag.
However, the mayoral race was not the only thing decided on Feb. 22. As of press time, 10 new aldermen were elected to the City Council. Fourteen more aldermanic races will be resolved in the April 5 runoff elections, giving Chicago voters one more chance to cast their ballots. These elections will give voters the chance to create some enormous changes in the City Council—a chance they should not squander a second time by neglecting to vote. Aldermanic elections can impact specific neighborhoods and wards far more than the mayoral race, so Chicagoans should pay close attention to these races and make their votes count come April.