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Brown: It’s up to the voters

Updated: May 29, 2011 4:46AM

It’s time.

That’s what Mayor Daley said on the day he set this process in motion. He was right.

Now it’s up to the voters to decide whose time comes next.

Let me repeat that, even though it’s a cliche: IT’S UP TO THE VOTERS.

Don’t come complaining to me afterward about how the media did this and the media did that, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know the media can’t elect a candidate on its own. You can ask Joe Berrios and Forrest Claypool about that, just to mention a recent example.

And don’t blame it all on the money, because even though money makes a difference, history is replete with the names of political candidates who had lots more money than their opponents and couldn’t get elected because voters weren’t buying what they were selling.

If you want a particular candidate to be the next mayor of Chicago, what you need to do is get out there and vote and get two like-minded friends to go with you. Blaming me won’t help.

It’s disappointing, therefore, to see that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners is expecting a voter turnout of just more than 50 percent today, which could result in barely one-fourth of the electorate picking Chicago’s next mayor. There’s really no excuse for that.

For the first time in two decades, Chicago voters have a choice. Good choices, too, from where I sit.

Not perfect choices, I’ll admit. They never are. And maybe voters don’t have all the choices they might have expected when this campaign started. Certainly, there’s nobody who’s going to make the kind of changes to city government that some may have preferred.

But you’ve got at least two capable candidates who could jump in and handle the job from day one, plus a third who I’d like to think is the best-intentioned, which ought to count for something.

Over the course of this campaign, all six mayoral candidates have shown they have something to say, speaking either for a particular vision of the city or on behalf of a particular constituency that might otherwise have been overlooked.

If you’ve seen them together in debates and other candidate forums, then you know that only a partisan would come away thinking that any one of them was so far above the rest to make the discussion unnecessary.

This is a contest of mortals, most of whom bring some baggage to the table, the result of time spent in the public eye.

And as much as Chicago residents may be ready to switch leaders, the message they’ve sent to this year’s candidates was best described to me early on as wanting “change, but not too much change,” in which case they’re getting what they asked for.

I’ve previously cautioned against putting too much stock in public opinion polls, which still holds true.

That said, I believe enough in polling to realize along with everybody else that there are only two possible outcomes today: an outright victory for former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or a runoff April 5 that will include Emanuel as one of the two candidates.

Emanuel’s opponents know that they’re either going home after today or launching directly into an intense six-week, no-holds-barred campaign more like the one I might have envisioned in the first place, only this one would be one-on-one.

I made the rounds with the major candidates Monday, and all but Emanuel predicted a runoff. He was making no predictions, as befits a frontrunner. But none of the others has given up, so there’s no excuse for their supporters to do so either.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson showed he hasn’t given up on his candidate, former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, by preemptively leading a contingent of her backers into a Bronzeville chicken and waffle restaurant to disrupt a lunchtime appearance by Emanuel — a direct challenge to his popularity with African-American voters.

If we get to a runoff, the dynamic changes.

“It’s just two people,” former schools and parks president Gery Chico explained after lunching on dim sum in Chinatown. “That means it’s easier for voters to focus on the people, their positions, their vision. And I think that’s going to crystallize things very nicely.”

City Clerk Miguel del Valle said the city needs a runoff to better inform the public after an abbreviated campaign overshadowed by the legal fight over Emanuel’s residency.

It’s time for Chicago to reveal its next step.

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