CHICAGO — Chicago voters went to the polls Tuesday in the city's first mayoral runoff with a clear message to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia: The winner needs to pay better attention to them.
From communities plastered with Garcia signs to those dominated by Emanuel posters, voters expressed the same concerns, the same dissatisfaction that they aren't being heard. Some said Emanuel, President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, is a lot better at listening to the nation's most powerful business and political leaders than he is at listening to people talk about their worries about things like education, public safety and pensions.
"Hopefully he (Emanuel) takes heed of the runoff when he should have been a shoo-in," said Richard Rowe, a 50-year-old resident of Englewood on the city's South Side, who was on his way to vote for the incumbent.
That is Jesus Fernandez's hope too. Although he voted for Garcia, Fernandez didn't think the challenger would garner enough votes to win. But he still thought his vote would be significant.
"If he (Garcia) gets close, we might push Rahm to do something," said Fernandez, a 44-year-old window washer and father of four. "At least we push him a little bit."
Here are some things to know about Tuesday:
EARLY VOTING SURGE
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners says more than 142,300 residents voted early, 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.
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.
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 and a persistent crime problem. The leader of the nation's third-largest city will also have to attract new residents and businesses.
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 spent Monday shaking hands with the breakfast crowd and calling voters. He told reporters 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 said. "They're voting for the basic things that they want for their families, their neighborhoods and their communities."
Garcia's says he'll focus on every neighborhood while Emanuel has largely paid attention to the wealthy and businesses. He's also played on frustrations with schools and violence.
Supporters — including the Rev. Jesse Jackson — rallied Monday in the heavily Mexican Pilsen neighborhood. They blasted Emanuel for not taking down widely criticized red-light cameras, while praising Garcia for meeting with residents over noise complaints near O'Hare International Airport.
"We weren't supposed to be here. We were counted out," Garcia told supporters. "People had their say in Chicago."
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