Editorial: Let the imperfect mayoral race begin

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Met anyone who believes the mayoral race is chock-full of stellar candidates offering Chicagoans the chance to choose from a broad array of expertise, decades of experience in public office, and fiercely divergent and richly articulated political viewpoints?

Thought not. We haven’t either.

The slate of announced candidates for mayor is less than thrilling and certainly lacking in obvious choices for the beleaguered Chicago business community, which has been positively begging for better representation.

For pragmatists who want the city to focus on economic growth, competitiveness, tourism, reignited retail on Michigan Avenue, reduced taxation wherever possible, improved public safety, efficient transit and international reputation, no candidate is a clear front-runner.

If you believe that government’s first job is to get out of the way of entrepreneurs who can redefine Chicago in the 21st century, cutting regulation and red tape to the minimum and setting the marketplace of innovation free to spur growth for the benefit of all citizens, then you are likely scratching your head at the slate of candidates.

And in a city that declares itself to be a place of no small plans, a city that wants to compete with the leading metropolises of the world, it is striking how few of the declared candidates come with any kind of meaningful international experience, or even demonstrated interest, on their resumes.

There is no new or improved model of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel or even Bill Daley, a highly experienced candidate from the past who was no fan of the obligatory Chicago rituals of campaigning. Already, many in the Chicago business community are preparing to hold their noses and vote for the least damaging candidate to their interests. Their focus now is on whether or not that will be the incumbent, Lori Lightfoot.

At this juncture, it is a genuinely fascinating question.

But the reality here is that in a democracy, candidates are free to run or not, as they so choose. The likes of Arne Duncan, and even former Gov. Pat Quinn, apparently checked their bellies and found the political fire therein to be insufficient.

The job of Chicago mayor is by any standards a difficult job, even aside from all the unavoidable criticism, of which we deliver more than our share, even when the problems flow from the mistakes of others.

A tribal City Council has to be appeased. Department of Streets and Sanitation workers have to be told to take instant care of the snow and ice, as inevitable as an aldermanic rebellion. Then there is the unappetizing prospect of waking up in the morning to the news that more kids have been shot, followed by the inevitable questions as to what you, Mayor, plan to do about an issue that clearly is rooted in causes that extend far beyond the borders of Chicago.

Plenty of ambitious A-listers have pondered all this over Italian beef sandwiches and decided their ambitions lie elsewhere. The job of mayor in major cities lacks the political glamour and opportunity of governor posts and assignments in Washington, D.C. They are retail positions with all the attendant problems of the duty manager.

So a tip of our collective hat, then, to Lightfoot, Ald. Sophia King, community activist Ja’Mal Green, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, businessman and philanthropist Willie Wilson, state Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, all declared candidates in the race, all willing to pursue a tough job and serve a city of palpable need and possibility.

Others may have talked a good game, but these announced candidates appear to be the brave folks actually following through for their city.

Up next is the spectacle of candidates trying to get rivals knocked off the ballot by questioning the veracity of their signatures, a bizarre and messy process so vividly captured last time around by filmmaker Steve James in the documentary “City So Real,” a film that revealed so much about how Chicago does its political business that you wondered why anyone would ever willingly submit themselves to such a potentially humiliating and demoralizing process.

No wonder Lightfoot entered the race with a preventive stack of some 40,000 signatures, more than three times the obligatory number. She is no fool.

None of those upcoming electoral theatrics, of course, will solve Chicago’s many problems, all of which await the next mayor. Nor will the much-discussed order of the candidates on the ballot. If that matters to you, please allow us to suggest that you pay more attention.

We’ll be shifting through all of these candidacies in coming weeks, of course, and letting you know what we think and who we endorse.

One of the above, no doubt.

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