CN April 2, part 1

It’s just days before the election results roll in and we know whether the people have elected Rahm or Chuy.

So it’s only natural that, among political animals, attention turns to last-minute polls. And to early voting patterns.  Polls have shown Mayor Emanuel gaining significantly in wards with majorities of white registered voters, and, coincidentally, many of those same wards have shown a doubling of early voters since the February general election. What does it mean?

Syvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, thinks  – not all that much.

“People are just going to be gone for spring break, so they’re just getting in their voting early,” she predicts. “So I think it means that turnout will be less next Tuesday, the day of the election. People are just shifting their priorities around for when they vote.”

Nevertheless, more than 20,000 new voters have registered before today, and while that’s not a huge number, it’s enough to have real impact in a close election. The question is, which side registered them?

It’s been pointed out that the Mayor is running with such fervor that he doesn’t look like a candidate who is confident that the polls are right and he’s got a fifteen-point lead.

“He’s certainly sweating more than he’s had to before,” explains Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg. “But I would argue that he’s campaigning really hard. And that’s classic Rahm Emanuel. He always does that.”

“He came on four years ago,” Steinberg continues. “We were in a looming financial disaster, which is still very much with us. However it’s not a disaster that the mayor can fix. It’s against the law for him to fix this problem. The pension issue is just a time-bomb that will destroy Chicago.There’s no question about that.”

Emanuel has been criticized for offering as his most salient plan for pension funding a bill that requires State, and possibly Illinois Supreme Court approval. Steinberg say Emanuel’s options are limited. “Mike Madigan is going to have to solve this,” he explains. “Because  he’s the one with the power to do it. For some unfathomable reason, I would never guess why. Either that or you have to leave it up to God and say no one can solve it.”

Nevertheless, lots of Chicagoans have decided they’re going with Garcia.  And that number might be larger than had originally been thought. Last week, Puente’s Latino Policy Forum commissioned a poll, and because it was built from the ground up as a Latino-orientd poll, it revealed some different voting patterns.

“The poll was conducted bilingually, in whatever language preference the person answered the phone,” she explains.  If they answered “bueno”, the interview began in Spanish. If “hello”, it was English.

“In this poll, it showed that 46% responded in Spanish. And I don’t think any other poll around town has been able to use that methodology…so it really calls into question the veracity and the accuracy of the other polls that are out there.”

And the LPF-sponsored poll showed a clear preference for Garcia in majority-Hispanic wards, Puente tells us.

“What our polls showed is that about 61% of Latinos said they were favoring Chuy. 18% said they were favoring Rahm…but what surprised me is that 20% of the Latino voters surveyed said they were undecided.”

With 40% of respondents not expressing a preference for Garcia, it could indicate that Emanuel is stronger than he appears, since some number of the undecideds may simply be afraid to admit their Rahm preference to an obviously Latino polling firm. But, as everyone at the table agreed, we’re going to know the answer in just a couple of days.

When you have pretty much all of the money, you can define your opponent. By almost all accounts, Team Emauel has done a good job of defining Garcia, and Puente says Garcia is being victimized by it.

“What I’m still having trouble understanding is, I think Garcia has laid out a plan. I think it hasn’t been as well received for what’s in it,” she says. “But we have a mayor who’s been in office for four years, and we’re on the brink of fiscal bankruptcy. Now, he’s saying it’s a 30-year mess that’s been accumulating, and yes, that’s true. But this year we had to borrow two months into next year’s CPS budget to balance this year’s budget. That’s all on this mayor.”

One of my frustrations in reading the papers is that there’ll be three paragraphs on how Garcia doesn’t have a plan,” she continues, “and then two sentences on, well, Rahm really hasn’t given much detail either. So I think that speaks to the broader bias of our newspapers lecturing us on who should be the next mayor, and that they’re not giving equal time or equal critique to each of the candidates.”

But Steinberg is forceful in his defense of Emanuel.

“We needed to close fifty schools and Rahm did it,” he asserts. “If you watched Chicagoland, with Fenger High School, you’ve got 400 kids in a 1600-kid school…because the City’s hollowed out, and because any parent who has any sort of resources either takes them to the suburbs or sends them to a private school because sending their kids to the Chicago Public Schools is a form of child abuse in some places.”

“What we’re doing is a narrative for a public policy solution that we came up with 20 years ago when our schools really were a mess,” Puente counters. “We said, OK, now we’ve gotta start to create charters. That was a policy solution twenty years ago. Moving up now, I think what we’ve seen is charters have in some ways facilitated a disinvestment in our neighborhood schools. And now we’ve got to right the policy ship”

Despite his prediction  that Emanuel will win, Steinberg says there would be benefits to a Garcia incumbency.

“If you look at the arc of numbers in America, Latinos are rising in power, in influence, and are a much larger factor in America,” he asserts. “And if Chuy Garcia becoming the Mayor of Chicago can be part of that story, I don’t think there’s anybody who cares about the city who’d think that’s a bad thing. The problems we’re facing are not some magic thing that Rahm Emanuel has figured out, obviously. On the other hand, if you look at power in Chicago and if I had to bet the house, I’d bet that Rahm wins on Tuesday.”

And what’s Puente’s prediction?

“It is spring break. There’s gonna be tens of thousand of teachers who are gonna be out of school, and a lot of Rahm’s base is gonna be away on spring break,” she claims. “I do think there’s a lot of enthusiasm, Chicago has people coming in from all around the country to work on the election for what it’s beginning to symbolize. But we all know the Mayor is very astute. He’s put in tremendous resources, and I think we’re not going to know.”



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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