By Derek Robertson
Alderman Sophia King of the 4th Ward won a special election for the office last Tuesday, her first appearance on the ballot since her appointment by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in April of last year.
King received 63 percent of the vote, well above the threshold of 50 percent required to avoid a runoff election. She faced four opponents united in criticizing her ties to Emanuel, but her closest runner-up, real estate attorney Ebony Lucas, captured only 17 percent of the nearly 7,000 ballots cast.
In a ward that covers portions of seven diverse neighborhoods and has over 36,000 registered voters, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen described turnout as comparable to other off-year contests.
“It’s definitely better than the worse turnouts we’ve seen. Special elections with only one office on them tend to be overlooked by the vast majority of voters – we’ve seen turnouts as low as 13 or even 10 percent in some of these single-office special elections,” Allen said the day after the special election.
He added that Chicago still has some of the highest turnout in the nation on average, and that last Tuesday’s race was no exception.
“[Turnout of] 19 percent is nothing to brag about by any stretch, but it still will likely be higher than what you see in other municipal elections across the area on April 4 in the suburbs and downstate,” Allen said.
Emanuel selected King last year to replace former Alderman Will Burns, who left the office to take a position with Airbnb. King, a longtime Kenwood resident, formerly served as president of the Kenwood Park Advisory Council as well as having founded Harriet’s Daughters, a non-profit focused on African-American employment.
In addition to those credentials, King touted in her election bid the endorsement of Kenwood’s most famous resident – former President Barack Obama.
During the campaign King frequently asserted her independence from Obama’s former chief of staff, however, saying in an interview with the University of Chicago’s the Gate that “[She has] no fear of Rahm Emanuel.” King joined the City Council’s Progressive Caucus in December, a group of 11 aldermen who find themselves more often than not in opposition to the mayor who served as her patron.
Don Rose, longtime political consultant and campaign manager to reformist former Mayor Jane Byrne, described how King can maintain both her progressive credentials and her independence.
“The one thing that both Rahm and his predecessor did was give some deference to the outgoing alderman or the ward committeeman, and so it is possible that she could wind up being a progressive – and she more or less has to in that district or else she won’t last very long,” Rose said.
Rose also referenced what’s likely to be King’s first major challenge after her election – the city’s upcoming choice of a developer for the 114-acre former site of Bronzeville’s Michael Reese Hospital. He predicted the community will take sides shortly after the announcement, with most favoring housing or mixed retail development over a proposed but blocked plan to build a casino on the site.
A spokeswoman for the Progressive Caucus affirmed King’s independence, praising her for her support during last year’s airport workers’ strike.
“Alderman King has demonstrated a strong and independent track record in office so far, and it’s clear that she’s not beholden to any particular political patron, which is why we were excited to have her join the caucus,” Joanna Klonsky said Tuesday.
Both King and the mayor will seek re-election in 2019. An announcement is expected on the Michael Reese Hospital site on April 6.