CHICAGO—Voters here will decide Tuesday on a mayor’s race the likes of which they haven’t seen in decades, one with no clear front-runner among more than a dozen candidates vying to govern the nation’s third-largest city.
None of the 14 candidates has polled above 15%, and at least six have a shot of finishing in the top two spots, according to several local polls. The two top finishers will face off on April 2, unless one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote.
The leadership toss-up was created by the unexpected decision of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to not seek re-election. Mr. Emanuel has served since 2011 and followed a 22-year tenure by Richard M. Daley, whose father had served for 21 years up until 1976.
The next mayor will need solutions for problems ranging from high crime and population loss to troubled finances stemming from decades of overspending. Chicago’s pension deficit is among the worst nationally, with four pension funds having a combined shortfall of about $30 billion.
“The biggest issue for many Chicagoans is, What are we doing to stabilize the finances?” said Laurence Msall, president of the business-funded Civic Federation.
Mr. Emanuel brought a boom in downtown construction as corporate headquarters relocated to the city. He also addressed some of the city’s pension deficits by raising taxes and closing public schools. But those moves, combined with the high-profile coverup of a deadly 2014 shooting of an African-American teenager by a white police officer, damaged his political standing.
The candidates with the strongest showings in polls include: Gery Chico, former chief of staff to Richard M. Daley; Bill Daley, former U.S. Commerce Secretary and brother of Richard M. Daley; Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor; Susana Mendoza, the Illinois comptroller; and Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president.
The mayor’s race is nonpartisan, though the city government is dominated by Democrats.
Ms. Mendoza said the biggest problem facing the city is violent crime. Chicago’s murder rate has fallen in recent years but remains among the highest in the nation. The city’s population has fallen three years in a row through 2017, according to the Census Bureau, and some have cited violent crime as a factor. In January, a federal judge approved a consent decree aimed at forcing a broad overhaul of the city’s police department.
“Hands down it’s the No. 1 issue,” she said. “We’re going to have a difficult time attracting corporate headquarters or moving people here if kids are afraid to go to school or it’s not a safe place to be.”
The candidates have attacked one another over their ties to Edward Burke, the city’s longest-serving alderman, who faces federal extortion allegations and has donated to several top-tier candidates.
Ms. Lightfoot is airing an ad that takes direct aim at the political culture in the city. “Shady backroom deals haven’t served us,” she says in the ad.
Last week, Robert Martwick, a state representative allied with Ms. Preckwinkle, one of the candidates Ms. Lightfoot named in that ad, accused Ms. Lightfoot at a news conference of campaigning like President Trump.
“This sort of Trump-style, where you’re trying to draw attention to yourself without assessing the facts of a situation, shows exactly why you’re wholly unprepared to be mayor of the city of Chicago,” Mr. Martwick said.
“People like you,” Ms. Lightfoot shot back, “are part of the broken political machine.”