UPDATED 01/31/11 11 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Some Chicago voters are taking advantage of their first chance to help pick the first new mayor of Chicago since 1989.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, early voting in Chicago began at 9 a.m.
Registered voters can now cast their ballots at any one of 51 sites. Click here for a complete list.
Election Day is Feb. 22.
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Voters are choosing between front-runner Rahm Emanuel and the other three leading candidates – Carol Moseley Braun, Miguel Del Valle and Gery Chico – as well as Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins and William “Dock” Walls. Candidates for alderman, city clerk and city treasurer are also on the ballot.
“If you can do it early, get your opinion out early, it’s always a good thing. If you don’t have to wait until everyone else, and you have that opportunity to do it, it’s a little bit easier,” said voter Dan Supitlov.
Yvonne Wilson was fourth in line at the Cook County Board of Elections downtown. She said early voting is the way to go.
“I do it to avoid the crowd waiting in lines, because, you know, the lines are too long on on Election Day,” she said.
Meanwhile, Emanuel himself also voted early on Monday, at the West Chicago Avenue Public Library, 4856 W. Chicago Ave.
The candidates are vying for a share of an estimated 1.4 million voters.
As of Friday, nearly 70,000 new voters had registered since the November national and gubernatorial election.
All the candidates except for Emanuel participated in a debate Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St. At the debate, when Watkins questioned where Braun had been for 20 years, the latter candidate fired back by saying Watkins had been using crack-cocaine.
“Patricia, the reason you didn’t know where I was for the last 20 years is because you were strung out on crack,” Braun, staring at Watkins, said. “Now, you have admitted to that.”
Braun continued: “So let me tell you what I was doing for the last 20 years. I was starting a business on the South Side. I was hiring people. I started a business from scratch.”
Watkins denied the charge before forum organizers cut her short. The community activist has admitted past drug use but says she has been sober for 25 years.
Emanuel reacted to the outburst Monday morning.
“My reaction is, what more important is what does it mean to the city of Chicago?” Emanuel said. “Are we answering the problems that they think are important to the city’s future?”
Braun has offered no apologies.
Meanwhile, the other candidates were also out on the campaign trail over the weekend.
After picking up an endorsement from the Chicago Sun-Times, Emanuel was at a bike shop Sunday. He said making the city more business-friendly will attract new businesses.
“For a lot of new start-up companies, Web-based, high-tech, Internet companies, this is a quality of life that will attract the workforce that wants to be part of a city that has a livability quality to it,” Emanuel said.
Chico made an appearance with some political heavyweights, including Ald. Edward Burke (14th) and the heads of the police and fire unions. Chico says he’s the underdog.
“You’re fighting against Goliath, the $12 million man,” Chico said, referring to Emanuel. “Ladies and gentlemen, February 22, boom!”
Braun greeted voters at a North Side restaurant, while Del Valle was in Chinatown for a Chinese New Year celebration.
Early voting continues every day through Feb. 17. All the polling locations are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, except for the Lincoln’s birthday holiday on Feb. 11.
Three locations – the Board of Election Commissioners office at 69 W. Washington St., Welles Park at 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., and Mount Greenwood Park at 3721 W. 111th St., are also open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and on the Lincoln’s birthday holiday.