So why’d she do it? Why did Toni Preckwinkle, sitting atop stunning poll numbers and rising support all over the city, decide not to take on Mayor Emanuel?
“There’s this whole network of very powerful, very wealthy people who’ve made it clear they want Rahm Emanuel to remain as mayor,” explains the Reader’s Mick Dumke. “So you have to kinda step on all of their toes and say, to hell with all of you, I’m taking him on – and then potentially divide the Democratic party. From what I can tell that is the biggest reason why she said, no thanks.”
And WBEZ’s Natalie Moore says there’s some truth to Preckwnkle’s claim that she has much more to do as County Board President. “We can’t under-play how important the County Board position is,” she tells us. “Her work is very important at this time about incarceration and who’s being locked up.”
“She almost single-handedly has managed to make the release of defendants from Cook County Jail a popular issue,” Dumke adds. “That was a third-rail issue for a long time, so let’s give her credit for all that.”
But there’s simply no denying the role money will play in the Mayoral election. Toni Preckwinkle, Dumke says, would’t have needed as much money as Emanuel, but “you’d have to cross all these powerful business people, these very powerful interests.”
And many of these business leaders have been funneling money to Mayor Emanuel from the beginning, despite the Mayor’s supposedly strenuous contribution regulations.
“A lot of these people do have business ties to the city one way or another,” Dumke explains. “They may not be getting contracts per se, but they’re sitting on the boards of banks that get bond work worth millions of dollars. They do business with people who do business with the city. Maybe their lobbyist isn’t allowed to contribute, but they contribute instead of their lobbyist. And the bottom line is – the guy can raise a lot of money.”
Karen Lewis has emerged as the one visible local leader apparently willing to run against the Mayor. But will she?
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she sits down and weighs all the options and decides that this isn’t the best route for her,” says Moore. “But I think the attention she is basking in gives her some political capital she can use in ways that aren’t just running for mayor.”
“She’s in a pretty good spot,” Dumke adds, “because I think she could, even by making a modest showing, impress a lot of people. She’s always described as fiery and people say she’s angry all the time, and, you know, that’s actually not true. If you hear her speak…she’s really articulate. She’s really smart. I think she would actually impress a lot of people.”
But Lewis is often characterized as a polarizing figure. And that, says Moore, could set off a media firestorm. “This could be a battle of personalities and not about the substance. And if that does happen, I think reporters will start foaming at the mouth. Karen Lewis is painted, even in the national media… if you see someone calling someone the murder mayor, that’s going to be a turn-off and seen as hyperbole. But that tends to be what’s recycled about her, and not how she stands on issues.”
But Dumke points out that in at least one logistical sense, Lewis is well positioned. “She’s already got a grass-roots game that the mayor needs money to buy. The mayor actually does not have a ground political game. He’s a new politician. It’s money.”
Violence – particularly gun violence – continues to dominate the headlines in Chcago, especially during the recent July 4 weekend. We asked the panel whether additional police could have improved the situation.
“The mayor and the police chief get too much credit and take too much heat when there’s violence,” Moore asserts. “I don’t think that these are policing issues. This is an issue of economics, this is an issue of poverty, an issue of segregation.”
“The number one violence issue in this city isn’t even gun violence,” she continues. “It’s domestic violence, if you’re listening to a police scanner. So we make decisions about what kind of violence to cover. We don’t really have a conversation about that.”
Since our show tends to be about both the issues and the media that covers them, we talked about the interconnection between the street violence and the coverage it gets.
“I believe that the way the media covers violence in this city is completely wrong,” Moore declares. “I’m so sick of the Monday morning count. There’s no empathy. It turns into this – Chicago, what’s wrong with you? – and then it becomes a national story. Chicago is not the murder capitol of the world, of the country, of even the midwest. But how do you say that to someone who’s experienced gun violence? People don’t want to look at stats. It’s this emotion, and the media is feeding into it, and it’s sexier and easier to do these counts than it is to talk about the issues. The most violent areas have a lot in common. Foreclosures, vacant property, food deserts, high poverty – all the worst outcomes you can have.”
And Dumke sums it up: “The gun factor is the lit match you’re throwing onto dry kindling.”