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No Runoff Needed As Ald. Sophia King Wins Big In 4th Ward Special Election

By Sam Cholke | February 28, 2017 7:19pm | Updated on March 3, 2017 11:31am
 Ald. Sophia King (4th) easily took the special election to finish the remainder of Will Burns' term Tuesday night.
Ald. Sophia King (4th) easily took the special election to finish the remainder of Will Burns' term Tuesday night.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — There will be no need for a runoff election in Chicago's 4th Ward.

Ald. Sophia King (4th) coasted to an easy victory Tuesday night to fill out the remainder of Will Burns' term as alderman. He unexpectedly quit for a job with Airbnb last year.

With all precincts reporting, King captured the election with nearly 64 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results. She needed more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff election with the second place finisher on April 4.

The election wrapped up so quickly that the results were already clear by the time King arrived at her campaign party at Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th St.

"This has never been about me, it's always been about us and what we can do for our community," King said.

She thanked Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who served as 4th Ward alderman for 19 years, for taking her under her wing and mentoring her through her first year in City Council and her first campaign.

"I was so humbled that she would take me under her wings and show me what was truly important," King said.

As she was joined by family, campaign staff and supporters she said she was already thinking forward to the 2019 election for a full term as 4th Ward alderman.

"We truly have a treasure here in the 4th Ward," King said. "We have a long and beautiful tradition of independence I hope to pick up."

A little more than an hour after the polls closed, she seemed to have easily avoided facing any of her challengers one-on-one in a runoff.

Turnout was low, with just 18 percent of registered voters heading out into the rain to cast a ballot.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said turnout has been lower for special elections.

"Eighteen percent is by far not the lowest turnout for a special election," Allen said.

He said previous municipal special elections have drawn as few as 10 percent of voters to the polls.

At King's election party at Little Black Pearl, the mood was buoyant with people checking results online before King herself arrived.

Five people ran for the seat, occupied for the past year by King, who was appointed to the post while awaiting the special election. To win the seat outright Tuesday, one of the candidates had to get over 50 percent of the vote. If not, the top two finishers would have had to face each other in a runoff.

In February 2016, former Burns left the post to take a job at AirBnB, leaving Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make an interim appointment until a special election could be held. He picked King.

The 4th Ward stretches from Downtown to Hyde Park along the lakefront and is home to Cook County Board President and former Ald. Toni Preckwinkle’s political base. The ward is home to many of the city’s political and business elites, and politicians like 4th Ward resident Barack Obama have used the area as a springboard to higher office.

The special election has prompted large outpourings of campaign cash and big-name political endorsements, including Obama's endorsement of King, the first foray ever by a former president in an aldermanic election.

The election presented voters with a choice between Ald. King, attorney Ebony Lucas, activist Gregory Seal Livingston, attorney and accountant Gerald Scott McCarthy and attorney Marcellus Moore Jr..

All of the candidates said at the six forums leading up to the election that the voters were driven by concerns over violence in the city.

Tuesday’s election was a rarity in the city. Normally, the mayor gets to pick a replacement for a vacant seat in the City Council until the next election is held.

But when Burns stepped down, it happened so close to his re-election in February 2015 that it triggered a normally dormant part of the election rules that mandated a special election.

So when King was appointed, she almost immediately had to start running to hold onto the seat in the Tuesday election.

It was a rare time when leadership of the 4th Ward was wide open and opponents quickly jumped into the race.

Early on it appeared there could be as many as 10 candidates in the race, before it was whittled down to five choices.

 Though there are 36,588 registered voters in the ward, turnout was expected to be low for the off-season election.

Preckwinkle, the former 4th Ward alderman for 19 years and who still controls the political organizations in the ward, come out strongly in support of King, bringing her organization out to support her and personally going door-to-door to canvas for King.

The endorsement from Preckwinkle and Barack Obama, helped bulk up King’s campaign budget to more than $221,000. The neighborhood was covered in her campaign signs and she still was able to fund strong get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day.

Despite that, King was hit throughout the campaign with criticism for her connections to Mayor Rahm Emanuel from the other candidates.

It was one of the points in the election where incumbency played against King. Her opponents tried to make the election a referendum against Emanuel, who is unpopular in many parts of the ward.

King’s four challengers held up her voting record as a sign she sided with the mayor when controversial votes came up in City Council.

A University of Illinois at Chicago study found King sided with the administration 85 percent of the time on divided votes. At forums, the other candidates said it showed King was more supportive of the mayor than many of her colleagues in the Progressive Caucus in Council and also less willing to go against the mayor than Preckwinkle when she was alderman.

The divided votes were nearly all on issues that didn’t factor prominently in voters’ minds during the election.

The forums showed the election was primarily a referendum on how to deal with violence in the city and improve accountability of the Chicago Police Department, with schools, taxes and kick-starting development playing secondary roles.

King has not yet faced controversial votes on any of those issues in her short tenure as the appointed alderman, according the author of the UIC report, political science Professor Dick Simpson.

Those issues are likely to come up prominently in the remainder of the term.

On Monday, developers started angling for a chance to redevelop 114-acres of lakefront property in the ward on the former Michael Reese Hospital site just south of McCormick Place.

The city is expected to make pick a developer on April 6, and avoiding a run-off election April 4 avoids having a transition in leadership as the decision is made, which could dramatically reshape Bronzeville with millions of dollars in investment.

But the next vote is not far off, with another election coming in early 2019 — meaning there are potentially four candidates with experience running a campaign and with a list of volunteers in the ward.