By Suzannah Gonzales
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago voters hit the polls on Tuesday in a crowded mayoral election that is expected to lead to an April runoff to pick who will lead the third-largest U.S. city, which has struggled with crime and racial divisions.
Rahm Emanuel, mayor since 2011 and previously White House chief of staff to former U.S. President Barack Obama, threw the race wide open in September with a surprise announcement that he would not seek a third term.
Political newcomers have entered the race along with well-known names like William Daley, 70, son of one previous Chicago mayor and brother of another. Daley is also former U.S. commerce secretary who succeeded Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff.
The racially diverse field of 14 is the largest of any Chicago mayoral election, said Jim Allen, Chicago Election Board spokesman. If no candidate receives a majority, the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff on April 2, he said.
Voter turnout was running at a record low pace of 19 percent of registered voters early Tuesday afternoon, Allen said. Polls close at 7 p.m. central (1 a.m. GMT).
Ongoing police reform efforts loom large over the vote, with national implications. Emanuel faced calls to resign after a video of the fatal police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald was released more than a year after the 2014 incident.
President Donald Trump has criticized reforms like mandatory federal oversight of the Chicago Police Department, warning of a "crime spree" in what was historically one of the most violent cities in the United States. Chicago's murder rate fell in 2017 and 2018.
White former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced in January to nearly seven years in prison for murdering McDonald in a landmark case that highlighted the city's racial tensions.
One mayoral candidate is Lori Lightfoot, 56, a former federal prosecutor who has been prominent in the reform debate as Chicago Police Board president. Another is Garry McCarthy, 59, former Chicago police superintendent whom Emanuel fired after the video was released.
Other candidates include Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, 46, and Toni Preckwinkle, 71, Cook County board president. Amara Enyia, 35, was little known until she got an endorsement from the musician Chance the Rapper.
"We're all predicting there's going to be a runoff," Northwestern University political science professor Jaime Dominguez said in a phone interview.
Dominguez said he expects a second round with Daley and Preckwinkle, the two candidates he said had the most money. "From there, it could be a toss-up," he said.
The next Chicago mayor will inherit a $28 billion unfunded pension liability and escalating contributions to the city's four retirement systems that will top $2 billion starting in 2023. The mayor is also responsible for the heavily indebted Chicago Public Schools.
Sean Girardin, 47, who lives on Chicago's North Side, voted for Lightfoot, explaining she had "the greatest amount of willingness to take on the amount of change that needs to happen in Chicago politics."
The election is not based on political parties though Democrats have dominated Chicago politics for decades. Many Chicago residents said they were still undecided and some said they might not even bother to vote.
"I have no idea," said Britt Sasser, 32, from behind the counter at a Jewish deli. "Who's running?"
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub, Karl Plume, Tom Polansek, Stephanie Kelly and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer, Peter Cooney and David Gregorio)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 04:06:26 IST