In Tuesday’s municipal election, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel couldn’t garner enough votes to stave off a runoff. With nearly 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Rahm Emanuel was at 45.4 percent of the vote. He will be forced into an April 7th runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who finished in 2nd place, with 33.9 percent of the vote. Three other candidates split the remaining votes. The April 7th election will be the first Chicago Mayoral runoff in history.
Although Emanuel received a plurality of the votes on Tuesday, his inability to avoid a runoff was considered a surprise by many in the press. Emanuel had poured millions into his campaign against several underfunded opponents. However, even an endorsement from his former boss, President Barack Obama, couldn’t lift the former White House Chief of Staff above the 50 percent threshold needed to prevent a runoff election.
Emanuel has long been a fixture in Democratic politics. However, he represents the corporatist “neo-liberal” wing of the party. The mayor has infuriated progressives and populist Democrats by being too cozy with corporations while showing indifference to the plight of the city’s poor. Emanuel’s policies have outraged the left so much that they have dubbed him with the disparaging moniker “Mayor One Percent”.
Like his predecessor, machine Democrat, Richard Daley, Rahm Emanuel has vigorously pursued privatization, enriching private investors while leaving the rest of the Windy City in the lurch. The Mayor has sold off much of the city’s public assets. Chicago-based journalist and writer, Rick Perlstein, documents much of Emanuel’s privatization scheme in an article for In These Times, titled “How to Sell off a City: Welcome to Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago, the privatized metropolis of the future.”
Rahm Emanuel has also earned the scorn of school teachers. In addition, to closing 49 schools, many in already under-served neighborhoods, the Mayor sought and secured legislation limiting the right of Chicago teachers to strike. The union-busting Mayor has not only alienated educators, but by cutting or privatizing other municipal jobs, he has antagonized a broad cross-section of Chicago’s middle and working class residents.
On Tuesday, Rahm Emanuel ran strong in many of the affluent, predominately white, portions of Chicago, while he did especially poorly in Latino areas of the city. His strongest opponent, Chuy Garcia is Latino, so Emanuel’s low support in the Latino sections of the city is unsurprising. However, what is more noteworthy, is that the Mayor’s support dropped precipitously from his 2011 percentages in many heavily African-American precincts in South and West Chicago. He also lost significant support from white liberals in the North Shore precincts.
Emanuel’s 15 million dollar war chest was not enough to put him over the top, because the Mayor is too closely identified with the corrupt insider politics that benefit the few at the expense of the many. While voters have become cynical enough to expect this style of crony capitalism from Republicans and Democrats alike, liberal voters have sent a message to Mayor Emanuel that “business as usual” will no longer guarantee victory in Chicago.
Garcia, who is pro-Labor and a supporter of the “Fight for 15” campaign to raise the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour, represents a clear contrast to Emanuel’s insider deals and Old School Chicago politics. The underfunded candidate, who ran a strong second place to Emanuel on Tuesday Night, sounded a triumphant tone, while acknowledging his underdog status. Garcia trumpeted:
Nobody thought we’d be here tonight. They wrote us off. They said we didn’t have a chance. They said we didn’t have any money while they spent millions attacking us. Well, well, we’re still standing. We’re still running, and we’re gonna win.
To be sure, Garcia faces an uphill battle if he hopes to win the April 7th runoff. He will be badly outspent, and he will likely face a barrage of attacks from the Emanuel campaign. The Chicago Mayoral election will be closely watched as the establishment politician, who many feel represents the one percent, faces off against an opponent who can mobilize the anger of Chicago’s ordinary citizens, to oust the incumbent Mayor.
The outcome of that race could have implications for the future direction of the Democratic Party. If Garcia wins, it could signal the developing potency of the populist left to take down pro-corporate Democrats in other races around the country. More importantly, for Chicago residents, the election will determine the future course of their city. For working class and middle class residents, the opportunity to dethrone “Mayor One Percent”, should inspire them to make their voices heard on April 7th.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.