Illinois Municipal Races to Watch

There are big local elections happening across Illinois right now, not just in Chicago. Cor’s political experts and Collin Corbett share what’s happening in these key races and why they deserve attention.


Naperville Mayor

Naperville’s vibrant economy, safe neighborhoods, and great schools have made it a destination for people leaving Chicago. This mass exodus has changed this once conservative town into a Democratic stronghold—a shift that has resulted in a bitterly partisan political landscape. While Democrats hold many of Naperville’s county, state, and federal elected positions, Republicans have managed to hold onto local government. But with the center-right mayor, Steve Chirico, electing not to run for re-election, Naperville now has an open seat for mayor for the first time since 2015.


Three individuals are vying for the seat, with two being significant contenders. Democrats and progressives are supporting Benny White, a current city council member, who is trying to become Naperville’s first Black mayor. He is running against Scott Wehrli, a business leader and member of the prominent Wehrli family. While Wehrli is backed by many prominent Republicans and conservatives, he has opted to take a non-partisan approach to the election. Last, there is Tiffany Stephens, a Black community activist who is looking to play spoiler. She has not raised the funds to become a significant factor in this race.


It would not be a surprise if Benny White wins this race. Both Wehrli and White have raised the funds to stay competitive, both candidates are well known in the community, and both have run active campaigns. But Naperville Democrats are extremely organized and have an excellent ground game—White’s ability to consolidate his party behind this race, contrasted with Wehrli’s active attempts to distance himself from conservatives, will likely be the difference-maker. So far, Wehrli hasn’t shown he has the ability to win enough votes from the center to make up for the deficit from his own base. Wehrli’s best hope is if Tiffany Stephens pulls enough votes away from White’s base.


Lake Forest Mayor

There are three candidates for Mayor of Lake Forest: Stanford “Randy” Tack, an orthopedic surgeon; Prue Beidler, a former Chicago public school teacher; and Paul Hamann, a retired electrical engineer—though only Tack and Beidler are considered serious candidates. Both have served as Lake Forest Aldermen and have been very active in various civic/community organizations.


Lake Forest has a unique caucus system, a non-partisan political action committee that recruits and supports consensus candidates for local office. For over 20 years, the Lake Forest Caucus mayoral candidate has not been contested in the election. This year, the caucus recommended Randy Tack. Beidler was unhappy at not being chosen, so she decided to challenge Tack in the election.


The race has quickly turned partisan, with Tack the center-right establishment candidate and Beidler the more left-of-center, anti-establishment candidate. Beidler, who has donated over a million dollars to Democratic candidates including Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowky, and Toni Preckwrinkle, is being supported by prominent Democrats. She would be the first female mayor of the city, a fact she has highlighted regularly while pointing to what she claims is a caucus process that unfairly prefers male candidates. Tack is running a limited campaign, focusing almost exclusively on the fact that he was chosen by the caucus.


This has been a cutthroat election, but Randy Tack entered as the favorite and will likely win. The unknown factor here is how high turnout may impact the race. District 115 has a $106 million referendum on the ballot which will drive up turnout, and Lake Forest is entirely in District 115’s boundaries. High turnout for the referendum will likely benefit Beidler and could swing the election.


Springfield Mayor

Incumbent Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder is framing himself as a problem-solver during times of crisis such as COVID-19 and the state’s budget stalemate. His opponent, City Treasurer Misty Buscher, is racking up endorsements in her bid to unseat the incumbent. She has been endorsed by 15 unions throughout Springfield, including both the Springfield Police and Firefighters Unions, the first time they have jointly endorsed a candidate for mayor.


Buscher is running an aggressive campaign, calling out Langfelder for what she claims is pay-to-play politics, while Langfelder has mostly focused on his record. Running against an incumbent mayor is always tough, but Buscher is running a formidable campaign. She is securing important endorsements, outraising her opponent (including raising over $167,000 in the most recent quarter), and building strong coalitions by refusing to let the race become partisan. Buscher clearly has a better path to victory than previous Langfelder opponents, but the mayor has a knack for eking out victories and shouldn’t be underestimated. This race is likely neck-and-neck.


Joliet Mayor

Joliet is often cited as the reason Will County votes Democrat in almost every election, and election returns usually support this theory. That’s why it is so interesting to see a heavily Democratic city having to choose between relatively conservative candidates. Joliet has a three-way race for mayor this year between incumbent Bob O’Dekirk, Terry D’Arcy, the owner of a franchise of car dealerships, and Tycee Bell, a resident vying for the position. However, the race is viewed as a battle between O’Dekirk and D’Arcy.


O’Dekirk is a former police officer who has earned a tough on crime reputation but has come under fire for his brash approach. He’s backed by the unions and much of the old Irish political network that has run the city over the years, but to call him a liberal Democrat would be insulting to him. D’Arcy has a history of voting Republican, a liability in a race like this, and has been criticized for only moving into town to run for mayor and for his previous support of high-density housing. Both candidates are well-funded and the race has been heating up in recent weeks. Insiders within the city are confident O’Dekirk will be able to hold on, even as D’Arcy tries to hit him from the right, as the incumbent likely has enough loyal supporters across the city who will carry him to victory.


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