2019 Chicago City Elections Voting Guide

Be an informed voter on February 26, courtesy of The Maroon.

Sofia Garcia

On Tuesday, February 26, Chicagoans will be voting on their next mayor, city Treasurer, city clerk, and aldermen, as well as on several referenda.

Below is information on the citywide races and the races and referenda related to the wards that contain campus and Hyde Park—the 20th, Fifth, and Fourth Wards. Alongside the candidates, we’ve linked to explainers on the specific responsibilities of each elected office and assessed how feasible candidates’ promises are given the actual limits and powers of the roles they’re vying for.

Registering and Voting

Click here to see your ward and precinct and your nearest polling place.

For more information on how to register to vote, click here. Chi.Votes, a collective of 10 publications in Chicago, also has a comprehensive FAQ on details of registering to vote and early voting. Here’s what you should know about early voting:

Aldermanic Race

Chicago’s 50 aldermen make up City Council, the legislative body of the city. Click here to learn about an alderman’s specific responsibilities and what they can and cannot do within their roles.

20th Ward

This year’s largest aldermanic race is between the nine candidates who are running to be alderman of the 20th Ward, which covers the area directly south of the Midway. The seat has a recent history of corruption—three out of the last four aldermen were indicted on corruption charges, including the incumbent Willie Cochran who is now indicted on bribery charges.

In light of this history, candidates have largely been campaigning on building trust in the ward. However, some have also tried to accuse their competitors of being dishonest in the race, objecting to each other’s signature petitions and responding to those objections.

Read on to learn about the candidates.

Jeanette Taylor
Community organizer, former chair on the Mollison Elementary Local School Council

Jeanette Taylor is a Woodlawn resident with activist roots in the South Side. She led a hunger strike to keep Dyett High School in Washington Park open and participated in protests with community members and UChicago students to pressure the University to open a Level I trauma center. She has also criticized the University for not hiring enough people from surrounding communities. Much of her platform focuses on creating economic opportunity for the ward without the risk of displacement; she has been a consistent supporter of citywide rent control measures as well as a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) for the Obama Presidential Center.

Nichole Johnson
Third-grade math teacher, community activist

Nicole Johnson is a longtime Englewood resident. Johnson previously worked as a third-grade math teacher, served on the Kershaw Elementary School Local School Council, and was community manager for a local nonprofit called Englewood Rising. Her background in education informs many of her proposals, such as creating partnerships between local schools and colleges and investing in school libraries. Other than education, her major aims include creating land trusts and secure housing for residents of the 20th Ward.

Maya Hodari
Director of Development at the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)

Maya Hodari is a resident of Woodlawn and is running on a platform of improving public safety through economic development. She supports the construction of the Obama Presidential Center, which will neighbor the ward, and while she has expressed concern about a CBA in the past, she recently has shifted her position toward supporting a CBA. Hodari has never run for elected office but advertises her experience as a founding member of the Woodlawn Neighbors Association, which attempted to reduce neighborhood crime through additional police resources and community beautification. She is also a director of development for the CHA. While at the CHA, she has been involved in several controversial projects, including the Ickes Homes and Roosevelt Square redevelopments.

Anthony Driver
Political activist and entrepreneur

The youngest candidate in the race, Anthony Driver has entered it with experiences working with the Chicago Mayor’s Office for Public Engagement and participating in activism in Washington, D.C. Driver’s personal experiences with gun violence motivate him to combat the issue and he said his time spent working in the mayor’s office equips him to handle the problem. One of his proposed solutions is to institute a gun disposal program at police stations. He also wants to create a 20th Ward credit union to help local businesses grow.

Jennifer Maddox
Works for the CPD’s Office of Community Affairs, doctoral student

Jennifer Maddox has prioritized issues concerning education and law enforcement in her platform. She’s been at the CPD for 22 years and has served for eight years as founding director of Future Ties, a tutoring center for low-income students. She was a 2017 CNN Hero of the Year award recipient for her work with Future Ties. Maddox has been organizing discussions between community members and officers in response to recent tension between law enforcement and residents. Maddox’s petitions for candidacy have been challenged twice by Kevin Bailey and Nicole Johnson. Her team overruled the objections, but not before paying several thousand dollars in law fees.

Andre Smith
CEO of Chicago Against Violence

This is Andre Smith’s third run for 20th Ward alderman. He has run multiple businesses in the ward and has worked with community groups on civic issues, such as with Southside Together Organizing for Power, to challenge Woodlawn problem landlords that showed negligible care of their tenants’ living conditions. He has also advocated for building UChicago Medicine trauma center. Smith’s platform includes tax incentives for new businesses in the ward and an elected school board.

Dernard Newell
Former pastor, assistant state’s attorney, professor at DePaul University

Denard Newell is one of the race’s more politically established candidates, having worked for former U.S. Senator Joe Biden, former Illinois State Senator John Glenn, and the former mayor of Washington, D.C., Sharon Pratt. He is less concerned with the displacement of community members by development projects than other candidates. In a forum in early January, he told his competitors to “not be afraid of ‘economic revitalization,’” noting that it increases tax revenues. However, he has said he supports CBAs for developments in the ward such as the Obama Presidential Center and potential University projects.

Quandra Speights
Attorney, human resources professional at Ford Motor Company

Quandra Speights’s platform focuses largely on generating greater community involvement in solving issues that face the ward. For example, she advocates for active participation in Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) meetings as a way to address public safety concerns. She has said that she aims to create more public events for community members to engage with their neighbors and reduce violence. Speights has also said that she wants to educate community members about harnessing already available tax incentives and affordable housing programs to encourage growth in the housing market and business development.

Kevin Bailey
20th Ward Democratic Committeeman, civil engineer

This is Kevin Bailey’s second run for alderman. In the 2015 elections, he came in second, trailing incumbent Willie Cochran with 45 percent of the vote. Since then, he has worked as the 20th Ward Democratic Committeeman. Prior to running for office, he was involved in various infrastructure projects as a civil engineer, including the construction of a high-speed rail project for former President Barack Obama. In his campaign, he has emphasized aid for small business owners, police accountability, and investing in after-school programs and vocational education. Other candidates have accused Bailey of being involved in “Chicago machine politics.” He has challenged the signatures of most of his opponents, and other candidates such as Driver and Johnson have accused his challenges of fraudulence.

Fifth Ward

The Fifth Ward, covering most of campus and Jackson Park to the southeast of campus, will likely soon see one of the largest developments that will be coming to Chicago in the near future—the Obama Presidential Center.

Long-time alderman Leslie Hairston is running again in a bid to continue her 20-year aldermanic stint, but this year she faces two challengers—both new to Chicago politics. Read on to learn about them.

Leslie Hairston
Incumbent 5th Ward alderman since 1999

Hairston, an alum of the University of Chicago Lab Schools, has overseen numerous development projects in her long tenure as alderman—including the $162 million renovation of South Lake Shore Drive, the construction of the Midway Plaisance skating rink, and the establishment of the Comer Children’s Hospital. She is the vice-chair of the City Council Committee on Economic, Capital, and Technology Development. Prior to her election, Hairston is also an ardent supporter of the planned Obama Presidential Center, and has been criticized for not supporting a CBA for the Center.

Will Calloway
Community activist and organizer

Will Calloway is a community organizer who pushed heavily for the release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video and supported a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the CPD, which was approved last week. Calloway grew up in Chicago and completed coursework at Columbia College Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Art. He is the founding executive director of Christianaire, launched as a nonprofit community organization and political action committee in 2015. He also started the AND Campaign, an organization dedicated to mentoring youth about religion, politics, law, and creative art. Aside from improving police-community relations, Calloway has also said that one of his campaign goals is to eliminate food deserts by developing more affordable grocery stores.

Gabriel Piemonte
Editor emeritus at the Hyde Park Herald

Gabriel Piemonte, a former editor of the Hyde Park Herald, now operates the political blog South Side United. He has contributed to numerous community projects, helping to found the South Side Community Federal Credit Union and develop the Care Free Community Garden. Piemonte is a strong supporter of a CBA for the planned Obama Presidential Center, as well as a reevaluation of the proposed site in Jackson Park. Piemonte also supports legalizing marijuana to generate revenue, but only dependent on a provision to reduce the sentences of those already serving time for possession.

Fourth Ward

The Fourth Ward, which covers parts of Hyde Park north of 55th street, has just two candidates running—the incumbent alderman Sophia King and challenger Ebony Lucas.

Sophia King
Incumbent alderwoman, previously president of nonprofit Harriet’s Daughters

Sophia King has been alderman of the Fourth ward since 2016, after her appointment following the resignation of Will Burns and her 2017 special election win. Most recently as alderman, King has successfully pushed for a task force to examine expansions of mental health services in the city, prompted by the closing of half of the city’s mental health facilities in 2012. During the summer, she also carried through the renaming a major street in the name of prominent Black female journalist Ida B. Wells. Her current campaign platform is focused on encouraging the growth of small businesses and creating strong network of school programs.

Ebony Lucas
Attorney and small business owner

Ebony Lucas unsuccessfully ran for alderman in 2017, earning 17.54 percent of the vote. Lucas is an advocate for a temporary halt on tax increment financing (TIF) districts, saying that they are not currently achieving their purpose of using reserves of tax revenues to revitalize blighted areas. Her other plans for economic growth include using vacant lots for clean energy development and the legalization of marijuana. She has also worked with programs such as Teens on 53rd, which promotes public safety, and supports the creation of an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) to improve relations between the police and the community.

City Treasurer

Three candidates joined the race for city treasurer after incumbent Kurt Summers announced that he is not running for reelection. Among their proposed promises as treasurer are: building a public bank and using revenues from marijuana legalization to fix the City’s pension deficit.

Click here for more on what Chicago’s city treasurer does and whether these ambitious promises are feasible with the treasurer’s powers. Read below to learn about the candidates.

Melissa Conyears-Ervin
State Representative, 10th District of Illinois since 2017

As a State Representative of the 10th District, which covers much of Chicago’s West Side, Melissa Conyears-Ervin sponsored bills that addressed the Illinois school code, progressive income taxes, sexual misconduct issues, criminal justice reform, and support for working parents. She said that if elected, she would bring the functions of several government entities, such as the City’s Office of Financial Analysis, under the responsibilities of the Treasurer. Conyears-Ervin has emphasized the need for financial accountability and transparency in her plan and hopes to release more reports and analysis regarding the City’s financial status.

Ameya Pawar
Alderman for the 47th Ward of Chicago

Ameya Pawar (S.M. ’09, A.M. ’16) spent two terms as the 47th Ward alderman, during which he championed legislation for TIF reform, earned sick leave, and low-income housing. Pawar has said that his platform involves addressing income inequality and climate change impacts. One of Pawar’s biggest proposals is to create a municipal public bank to put taxpayer dollars toward projects such as refinancing student loans, reducing the debts of residents, and investing in the infrastructure of neighborhoods.

Peter Gariepy
Certified Public Accountant with BKD LLP

Peter Gariepy unsuccessfully ran for Cook County Treasurer in the 2018 county elections. But he’s now set his sights on the Chicago treasurer’s position, joining the race as the only candidate with background in the finance sector. Gariepy said he hopes to strengthen union jobs and encourage responsible contracting to pay back the city’s pension deficit. He does not believe that a public bank is a reasonable goal in the light of Chicago’s current financial challenges but he does believe that the legalization of marijuana could generate tax revenue for investment in public projects.

City Clerk

There will only be one candidate for city clerk on the ballot: incumbent Anna Valencia. There had been several others who submitted petitions to run, but the Chicago Board of Elections kicked them off the ballot in mid-January after deciding that they did not have enough valid signatures on their petitions.

Read below to learn about the sole candidate.

Anna Valencia
City clerk, sworn in 2017

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Anna Valencia to be city clerk at the end of 2016, after current mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza resigned to become Illinois comptroller. At 31 years old, Valencia took over the City’s record-keeping, issuing business permits, and most importantly, overseeing the rollout of the City’s municipal ID program, CityKey, which was unveiled in 2018. CityKey ID cards give undocumented residents a form of identification and also include discounts and benefits for all ID holders to encourage widespread enrollment. Distribution of the IDs began slowing down several months into their release and one of Valencia’s tasks will be finding ways to spread them out to residents more widely.


After incumbent mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in September that he will not be running for a third term, candidates jumped into the race one after another. The number of candidates at one point totaled 17, and now, the number has been confirmed to be 14.

Emanuel was the first to break that the Daley political dynasty—the 43-year-long era of mayoral rule by Richard J. Daley followed by his son, Richard M. Daley. The diverse group of candidates in this year’s race, from long-time politicians and the son of Richard J. Daley to first-time hopefuls in their twenties, has left open the question of whether or not Chicago will fall back into the hands of those associated with the traditional “political machine.”

Click here for more on what the mayor of Chicago does, and read on below for more on all the candidates.

Jerry Joyce
City clerk, sworn in 2017

Jerry Joyce is a practicing lawyer who lives in Beverly on the Southwest side of Chicago. While this is Joyce’s first bid for mayor, his father Jeremiah Joyce—who was former 19th Ward alderman and a former state senator—was heavily involved with shaping former mayor Richard M. Daley’s political strategies. Among Joyce’s top proposals are supporting the construction of the south suburban Chicago airport, a long-discussed plan that has not seen support from Governor J.B. Pritzker, and supporting the legalization of sports betting, which Pritzker has discussed.

Paul Vallas
Former CEO of Chicago Public Schools

A native of Roseland, Chicago, Paul Vallas served as the City’s budget director from 1990 to 1993. Unlike treasurer, the budget director is not elected, but rather appointed by the mayor. In 1995, he became the Chief Education Officer of the Chicago school district, and in 2002, he became the superintendent of Philadelphia’s school district. While with CPS, Vallas pushed for improved eye care for students and helped create a crisis intervention fund. Vallas has also been involved in prison education reform. Now, Vallas intends to replace the “colleges-to-careers” job training program of Chicago’s City Colleges with a more universal core curriculum. Besides schools, Vallas also emphasizes safety and has said that he plans to hire more than 400 retired CPD officers to return and work certain cases to strengthen the department.

Willie Wilson

Louisiana native Willie Wilson he has done widespread entrepreneurial work throughout Chicago. In 1979, Wilson became one of the first Black owners of a McDonald’s restaurant, and has since gone on to own several chain stores throughout the city. In 1997, he founded Omar Medical Supplies, Inc., which provides medical and industrial products worldwide. Later, Wilson entered politics with his first mayoral run in 2015. After placing third with just over 10 percent of the votes, Wilson ran for President of the United States in 2016 and placed third in four Democratic primaries, including Illinois. Wilson has said he supports marijuana legalization and a citizen-owned local casino to generate revenues.

Toni Preckwinkle

One of the latest polls shows Toni Preckwinkle (A.B. ’69, M.A.T. ’77) as a frontrunner in the race. A native Midwesterner from St. Paul, Minnesota, Preckwinkle attended both undergraduate and graduate school at UChicago. After graduation, she spent around a decade as a high school history teacher. She entered politics when she was elected Fourth Ward alderman in 1991, held that office for 19 years, and later became president of the Cook County Board. As a former teacher, Preckwinkle said she prioritizes improving Chicago’s public education system, and plans to push for an elected school board. Preckwinkle also supports raising the minimum wage to $15/hour through incremental, 50-cent increases.

Bill Daley
Managing partner at Swiss hedge fund Argentiere Capital

Bill Daley, the youngest son of Richard J. Daley has raised the most campaign funds out of all the candidates and was most recently endorsed by U.S. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL). Now stepping down as managing partner at Swiss hedge fund Argentiere Capital, Daley supports a two-term limit for mayor, despite his familial legacy, and has said he would ban Daley family members from lobbying or doing business with the City.

Garry McCarthy
CEO of a security consulting firm, former superintendent of CPD

After Emanuel fired Garry McCarthy from the CPD in 2015 in the wake of revelations surrounding the Laquan McDonald shooting, McCarthy was quick to announce his candidacy, being one of the several candidates to declare a bid before Emanuel announced that he won’t seek reelection. McCarthy opposes the $95 million police academy that Emanuel has proposed, and opposes the police consent decree that would overhaul practices of the Chicago police. The decree would in effect track Chicago police officers’ actions more carefully.

Gery Chico
Partner at own law firm Chico & Nunes

Gery Chico first ran for mayor in 2011, when Emanuel first ran, and lost to Emanuel in second place. He’s served in various roles in the public sector—from chief of staff to Richard M. Daley to most recently the chair of the Illinois State Board of Education. Chico said he supports a hybrid school board, where some members are elected and some are appointed by the mayor. Currently, Chicago school board members are all appointed by the mayor. Among his more drastic measures, he has also proposed getting rid of the treasurer and clerk office—a proposal he’s been advocating for since 2011.

Susana Mendoza
Illinois comptroller

Susana Mendoza, who was long speculated to join the race, was one of the last candidates to join. She announced her candidacy in November, just several days after she was elected to serve another term as state comptroller, which essentially manages the state’s finances. Other candidates have said Mendoza represents Emanuel’s third term, recalling her ardent support for Emanuel while she was city clerk. Among some of her proposals include adding community services to under-utilized and under-enrolled schools and using TIF money—which is historically intended to revitalize blighted areas—to fund childcare for low-income families.

Amara Enyia
Public policy consultant

Amara Enyia was born in Baltimore and grew up in University Park, Illinois. Before entering politics, she worked as a freelance writer, public policy consultant, and community activist. Enyia ran for mayor in 2015 but withdrew before the actual election. In recent months, she’s made national headlines after being endorsed by Chance the Rapper and receiving nearly $200,000 in donations from Kanye West. Enyia has focused much of her campaigning on college students. In November, she came to campus to talk about her support for a CBA for the Obama Presidential Center. She’s also strongly supported the creation of a public bank for Chicago. Recently, Enyia has been under scrutiny for reportedly underreporting her income and not paying federal taxes.

La Shawn K. Ford
State representative of the Eighth District

La Shawn K. Ford is the representative of the Eighth District, which covers parts of southwest Chicago. He was indicted on bank fraud charges in 2012, but federal prosecutors dropped all felony charges; Ford said that the accusations were false. While Ford is one of the few candidates who has held elected office, he has not seen much financial support to his campaign—he has among the lowest in campaign funds. Ford supports reopening the mental health clinics that closed in 2012 and has also proposed instituting a moratorium on TIF districts.

Neal Sales-Griffin
CEO of CodeNow

Neal Sales-Griffin is Hyde Park native who attended Northwestern University where he earned degrees in education and social policy. After graduation, Sales-Griffin became the CEO of CodeNow, a nonprofit organization that teaches computer programming to low-income students. Sales-Griffin’s platform has evolved since The Maroon interviewed him in May, when he prioritized making the city budget more accessible online. His newer platform priorities include increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour and creating a city office dedicated to vocational training. Sales-Griffin is the first candidate in Chicago history who is on the ballot despite not having the necessary amount of signatures.

Lori Lightfoot
Former chair of the Police Accountability Task Force, president of the Chicago Police Board

Lori Lightfoot (J.D. ’89) is a Chicago native and an alum of UChicago’s Law School. If she is elected, she would become the first Black woman, as well as the first lesbian woman, to be mayor. Prior to her political career, Lightfoot served as an assistant U.S. attorney. Emanuel appointed her in 2015 to chair the Chicago Police Board and then several months later to the Police Accountability Task Force, created in wake of the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Fittingly, two significant point of emphasis for Lightfoot’s campaign are police accountability and violence prevention. To address these issues, Lightfoot plans to establish a new Public Safety Oversight Board to oversee the CPD, as well as a new Gun Violence Prevention Task Force to work with the CPD. Lightfoot also believes in political accountability, and, as such, she intends to push for two-term limits on the mayor.

Bob Fioretti

Bob Fioretti first ran for mayor in 2015. He lost in fourth place and endorsed Emanuel in the run-off election. He has served as alderman and committeeman of the Second Ward. He said that, if he were elected, he would oppose any property tax increases and real estate transfer tax increases. He has also proposed imposing a 1 percent commuter tax on suburban residents working in the city.

John Kozlar
Works on Aon plc’s Professional Risk Solutions team

John Kozlar (A.B. ’11) grew up on Chicago’s South Side and spent his undergraduate years at UChicago before heading to John Marshall Law School. In his last year in college, at 21 years old, he ran for 11th Ward alderman, but lost to incumbent James Balcer. Kozlar ran again four years later, losing in a runoff to Patrick Daley-Thompson. He has said that if elected mayor, he will vote against property tax increases, and will push for a policy that requires 60 percent of police officers working a given district to live in said district.


Residents in the wards making up campus and Hyde Park will be voting on just one referendum: whether or not the city should pass a Community Benefits Agreement ordinance. The referendum is non-binding, meaning even if it passes, City Council is not required to pass a CBA or even consider it on the floor.

Read our coverage of the referendum here.

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