A Black man and an Asian American woman stand at individual voting booths
Credit: Edmond Dantès/Pexels

With roughly seven weeks to go until round one of the mayoral election, here’s what we know so far from the latest polls.

If the election were held today, the winner would be . . . Karen Lewis!

OK, I’ll get to that. But, first, a word or two about a recent “poll.” 

It was put out by Crain’s Chicago Business and the Daily Line, who explain that, despite headlines to the contrary, it’s a “survey” not a poll.

Not sure what the distinction is. And I’m sure there’s no truth to the rumors that it’s based on  Crain’s political columnist Greg Hinz standing on the corner of State and Randolph and calling out to passersby, “Hey, who ya’ votin’ for?” 

According to the survey/poll, Cook County commissioner Brandon Johnson and Congressperson Jesús “Chuy” García are tied at the top without 25 percent of the vote.

Not surprisingly, that finding is enthusiastically championed by Johnson and García and disdainfully dismissed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Willie Wilson, Paul Vallas, Kam Buckner, Sophia King, Ja’Mal Green, and Roderick Sawyer. AKA—the other candidates in the race.

I’m with them—I don’t believe that poll/survey, either. Don’t take it personally, Crain’s—at the moment, I’m not believing any polls.

No, it’s pretty obvious that campaign strategists are using fake polls as propaganda to fire up their supporters and dispirit their opponents. 

It’s dirty politics masked as scientific research, and as usual the Republicans are a step ahead of the Democrats at this game. As we saw in the midterms when a series of phony Republican polls bamboozled the New York Times into sounding a warning about a Red Tide. Which turned out to be a red trickle.

The brouhaha over the mayoral poll/survey demonstrates the reality about mayoral elections that all candidates would agree on, so long as they’re speaking off the record.

Chicago politics is a little like making hit movies in Hollywood—no one knows nothing.

If we’ve learned anything from the last two mayoral elections, it’s all about the runoff, baby. If no one gets 50 percent or more from the first round on February 28, it comes down to a winner-takes-it-all showdown on April 4.

So this first round is basically a race to the runoff.

And outside a few diehards—like the people reading this column—the vast majority of Chicago voters are not yet paying attention.

Alas, the vast majority of Chicagoans will never be paying attention, if the trend of 35 percent voter turnout continues.

Having said all that, let me say this . . .

The idea of Johnson and García making the runoff caught me off guard.

As a lifelong lefty I’ve been conditioned to believe I’m so far to the left of ordinary Chicagoans that anyone I’d even consider voting for would undoubtedly lose. For me, a mayoral election is usually about deciding between the lesser of two evils—since Harold Washington, anyway. 

But at the head of this poll are two left-of-center candidates who owe their careers to Karen Lewis, the unabashedly radical former president of the Chicago Teachers Union. Is it possible that Chicago’s not so conservative after all?

Brandon Johnson worked for Karen Lewis—she hired him as a political organizer. And it was with CTU backing that he unseated Commissioner Richard Boykin as commissioner from a west and west suburban district in 2018.

He’s backed by CTU in the mayor’s race.

I have a feeling that García would have won CTU’s backing for mayor had he not dithered so much about whether he was going to run at all.

He only decided to jump in after lefties got tired of waiting for him to make up his mind and Johnson was already running.

Over the last few years, García has become a favorite of progressives outside of Chicago, by virtue of his ties to Senator Bernie Sanders. But let’s not forget that he owes his career to Karen Lewis. She plucked him from the scrap heap of Chicago politics and propped him up to run for mayor against Rahm Emanuel in 2015.

Lewis wanted to back Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle—but Preckwinkle opted not to run . . .

She tried to run herself. But she got sick.

So she surprised everybody by selecting García as the candidate. And then pretty much carried him to the runoff.

Back to the current race. It looks like Mayor Lightfoot’s internal polls show García is her biggest rival.

I say that because she launched an attack ad against him.

The ad rips García for taking campaign contributions from Sam Bankman-Fried—aka the Crypto Kid.

Bankman-Fried’s the 30-year-old wunderkind who convinced hundreds of fabulously wealthy people to throw millions and millions of dollars his way. He wound up allegedly spending money intended for one company, FTX, on another company, Alameda Research. Both companies went belly up, and he’s now facing federal corruption charges that could send him to prison.

So, yes, I suppose it’s fair game for Lightfoot to attack Garcia for taking donations from the Crypto Kid. On the other hand . . .

Lightfoot has her own connections to Bankman-Fried. Back in May, she was gushing over a promise by FTX to offer money and financial literacy training to low-income Chicagoans. 

Yes, she and her advisors thought it was a good idea to have a con man teach lessons of the marketplace to our citizens. Clearly, Elizabeth Holmes was unavailable for the job.

That program fell apart in the wake of FTX’s demise. If you want to know more about it, read this exposé by Manny Ramos or listen to our conversation on my podcast.

What’s worse—taking campaign contributions from Bankman-Fried or asking him to teach financial literacy to our citizens?

Eventually, dear voters, you get to decide.

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Karen Lewis knew you don’t make a lot of friends in high places when you stand up for teachers and poor kids.