CN Feb. 26, 2015


471,464 Chicagoans had their say this week. And what most of them said was they weren’t very happy with the status quo. And then there are the 949,968 registered voters who didn’t show up. What were they saying?

It’s big news that Rahm Emanuel failed to capture fifty percent of the votes cast for Mayor, and will now face a runoff with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. But what may turn out to be much bigger news in the weeks to come was the astounding number of ward races that followed the Mayor into runoffs-ville.

Given that almost all of these races affected aldermen loyal to the Mayor, and that many of the surviving challengers are  individuals who were backed, at least in part, by the CTU or other forces unfriendly to the Mayor, it’s possible that Rahm Emanuel, if re-elected in the runoff, will face a more unfriendly Council.

(21:40) “People are upset,” says Miguel Del Valle. He lost to Rahm Emanuel in 2011. “They’ve had it with the fact that their alderman many times votes at the rate of a hundred percent with the mayor…The voter feels powerless. And this was the only way that they could express that.”

Del Valle has not been a fan of the past four years of Chicago politics, and has endorsed Garcia. He believes that Rahm Emanuel has failed to connect with ordinary Chicagoans who spend more time in the neighborhoods than downtown. He said it all crystalized on election night with one camera shot.

(5:05) “When I saw it on the screen I didn’t know which headquarters it was, and then I saw people in the audience with hand-made signs with the names of neighborhoods on them,” he tells us. “And I said, oh, that’s Chuy’s campaign. And then the camera showed “Rahm for Chicago”. This is pure speculation on my part, but I think that those folks were scrambling that night to show that their candidate was for the neighborhoods, because they knew that the numbers showed the neighborhoods of the city, not downtown, have lots of concerns about how this mayor governs.”

Much has been made in recent days about the remarkably low voter participation – possibly the lowest ever for a municipal election. But Garcia points out that it’s not all apathy. For many, there’s been a let-down since 2011, and sometimes disillusionment manifests in lower turnout.

(10:12) “Emanuel now is a known quantity,” he explains. “There was promise. The president came in…reminded everyone that he was his Chief of Staff, he was his guy, so there was an outpouring of support…but it didn’t work this time around, because Emanuel is a known quantity. So the promise of the Emanuel administration wasn’t realized in the black community. Instead (they) got closed schools, red-light and speed cameras, a rise in unemployment, and an increased level of violence…so you see that a lot of black voters spoke by staying home. Those…are the ones that Chuy Garcia has to reach now.”

But wil Garcia be able to make a convincing argument that he can solve the crushing fiscal  crises Chicago faces? Author and Chicago Magazine blogger Carol Felsenthal isn’t sure.

(3:52) Unless he is really well prepared, and really well managed, when those two guys get up on stage together, I think Rahm will be careful not to attack him personally…but he’s going to say I want your numbers, I want to know what we’re gonna do about the pensions…”

Even if he wins a second term, Felsenthal says, she believes Rahm Emanuel won’t change his style.

(6:20)  “He said something interesting yesterday to reporters. That was – I’m not gonna change who I am. I am who I am and I’m going to give the city the benefit of my experience and my understanding of budgets and the hard choice that I’ve made”

So how does a relatively unknown County Commissioner face off with Mayor Emanuel in fifty wards in 39 days? Well, says Del Valle, he convinces people in lots of diverse neighborhoods that he understands their issues.  For example, the far northwest side, which voted in Emanuel’s favor, but below 50%, as you can see on this map developed by Daniel Hertz.

Screenshot 2015-02-26 19.49.04

(15:00)  “O’Hare airport noise,” he offers. “Expansion of charter schools. How they take away resources from local neighborhood schools. Overcrowding in some other schools. These are the kinds of issues that Chuy has to really crystalize in order for them to see that he is going to represent their interests in City Hall. Because what this map tells you is – where is Emanuel’s base? It’s downtown. It’s important that Chuy be able to hold this map in front of people and tell the story of the neglect of the neighborhoods.”

And in Chicago’s African-American communities, Del Valle says it’s important for Garcia to drive home his record of alliances with black politics and politicians. “Chuy has a long history of working with the black community. But a lot of folks aren’t aware of that history. That’s why he’s gotta get out there,” he says.

So is this race more about style than substance? Are people more offended by the Mayor’s brusque style than by his policies? Political activist and and strategist Delmarie Cobb, who worked with two successful aldermanic candidates in this election, says it’s definitely about the substance.

(19:50) “They wanted us to believe that it was about personality,” she says. “That’s the part I resented the most about this entire campaign. They wanted to meld it down to nothing more than personality. You know, I’m just a little rough around the edges and I’m abrasive. And it wasn’t about personality. The man has a tin ear.”

So for Mayor Emanuel’s opponents, this was a victorious election. It not only held the Mayor at bay, but it introduced a level of optimism not heretofore seen in his detractors. And that’s what Cobb wants to build on in the coming five weeks.

(8:30) “This all changes now,” she declares. “It’s the same as when Harold Washington ran. Now you can see the possibility. There’s a path to victory. You did not see the path to victory prior to Tuesday because somebody had thirty million dollars and you thought, oh…this is a slam dunk. All of a sudden it’s open to possibilities, and I think you’re gonna see people come out, and the vote is gonna change.”



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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