CN April 9, 2015


Rahm Emanuel had a ground game after all.  At least for the runoff. He saw how it worked out for him in the February general election, not having one, and he apparently didn’t like what he saw.

In fact, now that he’s won a decisive victory, it’s becoming clear that he had, through a network of surrogates, thousands and thousands of workers knocking on doors. And his numbers were impressive.

Early indications, although these numbers are always educated guesses, show Emanuel with 61% of the white vote, 57% of the black vote, and despite Chuy Garcia’s strong showing in most Latino wards, 39% of the Hispanic vote.

“Mayor Emanuel in February relied on the existing ward organizations and thought that they would be able to come through for him,” explains NPR Chicago correspondent David Schaper. “What I think he maybe failed to take into account is, while Mayor Daley did that as well, Mayor Daley ran those organizations. His organization ran those organizations. And in fact, its really the machinery that elected Rahm Emanuel to his congressional seat.”

Emanuel has always been given credit as a gifted political tactician. And, according to Schaper, Emanuel learned a lesson in February.

“Rahm had taken a much more hands-off approach,” Schaper asserts. “He ran the February campaign as he has done for congressional campaigns around the country – more of an air war on television, talking points, trying to win the day in the newspapers, trying to win the news coverage.”

Hal Dardick, City Hall reporter for the Chicago Tribune, says there was another factor in Emanuel’s lackluster performance in the earlier election.

“I think the great irony is that when he did first get elected to Congress he had the Doanld Tomczak army from the water department out there,” he explains. “And that was a real, true patronage army…all those things were dismantled by court cases, as we know. And the Mayor managed to get out from under the Shakman Decree by taking all the steps you’re supposed to,  to get rid of patronage. So the irony is he killed off, in a lot of ways – and this is a good thing- this patronage culture at City Hall, so he had to find another way to create ground troops.”

But let’s not forget the money.

“The money does talk,” says Schaper. “And when you have a four or five-to-one spending advantage, especially in the tens of millions of dollars, it is a huge mountain to climb.”

And just having the money to buy lots of commercials isn’t in itself, enough. Emanuel’s spots had an important secondary function. “There was an undercurrent message in all those commercials, too,” says Dardick. “Yea, I may not be likable. I may be an unpleasant guy, but I’m the unpleasant guy that you need.”

At this writing, it’s still too early to tell what’s happening in four very important ward races. And the money the mayor’s allies spent to support favorable aldermen and defeat his adversaries didn’t always do the job.

“You had Chicago Forward, this new Super-PAC, out there working separately from the mayor but on the mayor’s behalf to elect the mayor and allies of his in the city council,” Dardick explains.”And when all was said and done, a number of mayoral allies, six or seven, in the end will have lost. And the progressive caucus will not have a majority by any  means, but where they went into this race with seven members they may emerge with as many as fourteen. And these are people who are highly critical of the mayor, so you may see a slightly different dynamic on the city council.

Both reporters speculate that, as a third day dawns with several key Aldermen still in limbo, and a number of staunch allies – even with 100% voting records – being defeated, there are aldermen who must be asking – wow. I’ve been this loyal backer of the mayor for four years, and where did it get me?

And what of that suddenly expanded Progressive Caucus? Will it have actual power? Will it begin to set, or at least adjust, the agenda?

“I’m not convinced that they’re all on the same page on a lot of issues,” Schaper speculates. “So it’ll be interesting to see how it forms and coalesces, and to see what kind of committee assignments certain people get. I can’t imagine that this is gonna lead the mayor to all of a sudden invite Scott Waguespack to his budget meetings and his strategy sessions for Council meetings.”


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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