In September 2013, frustrated urban liberal populists experienced a jolt of genuine excitement with the New York City election of now-Mayor Bill De Blasio. All at once it seemed like the promise of the Occupy Wall Street movement had some real legs. After 12 years and three terms of the Father Knows Best leadership of one percenter Michael Bloomberg, the Big Apple proved it was serious about change.
Residents of “the Second City,” also known as Chicago, Illinois, are waiting with bated breath to find out if we’re having our own De Blasio moment this year. The polls are officially open, with local and national media eyes trained on the runoff Mayoral election between incumbent and former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, and his opponent, Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia. Although technically a Democrat and a former top aide to President Obama, frustrated Windy City residents and political dissenters have grown increasingly vocal about Emanuel’s presumptive sovereignty in shuttering public schools, privatizing the city’s public transit system and a host of other issues.
After being outspent by a wide margin and making a late entry into the candidate field, conventional wisdom had Emanuel enjoying a comfortable re-election on February 24. As writer Whet Moser observed for Chicago magazine, “No one, outside of the Garcia camp, seemed to expect he’d survive to a runoff.” Although unions have been weakened by right-wing efforts in recent years, never bet against angry educators and parents when it comes to mobilization.
With Emanuel jolted and on the runoff defensive, Garcia found a big opening to capture the zeitgeist and hand Chicago a populist revolution. On March 3, the South Side Weekly anointed Chuy the “standard-bearer for a movement of Chicagoans deeply distrustful of the Mayor’s claims that he has improved lives over the past four years, [embracing] the notion that Emanuel’s administration embodies the worst of corporate excess that makes victims of ordinary Chicagoans.”
But as any lifelong resident of the Windy City will tell you, racial divides remain. Paradoxically it appears that the white, elitist Emanuel is having an easier time uniting his coalition of African-American supporters than Garcia, a candidate of Mexican descent. If the trend holds, Chicago’s 33 percent black population could play a critical role in handing Emanuel a second stint at City Hall.
On April 3, Julie Bosman of the New York Times wrote Candidate for Chicago Mayor Struggles to Unite Latinos and Blacks. And she wasn’t talking about Rahmbo. She assesses the Chuy problem as such:
“Mr. Garcia’s strategy was to build a coalition of white liberals, blacks and Latinos — angered by Mr. Emanuel’s closing of dozens of schools and supportive of a plan to shift development from its wealthy downtown to poorer neighborhoods.
But a Chicago Tribune poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Emanuel with a commanding lead. He not only has large margins among white voters, but a nearly two-to-one margin among black voters, 53 percent to 28 percent. Mr. Garcia has not been able to increase his share of the black vote.”
What could be driving Garcia’s alienation from the black community? In 1980, Chicago’s Hispanic population stood at 14 percent. 30 years later, it hovers close to 30 percent. Unfortunately what that amounts to is a lot of the same demographic fear and distrust playing out across the country every time the phrase “immigration reform” is dropped.
The Times piece quotes Martha Biondi, chair of the African-American Studies Department at Northwestern University as saying, “Unfortunately, African-American communities in Chicago are faced with extraordinarily high unemployment rates — there’s just an ongoing, really dire economic crisis…And instead of blaming employers or the leaders of the major parties, many people who are suffering will sometimes blame immigrants or working class rivals.”
It would be a real shame if Emanuel, one of the key architects in tilting Chicago’s economy toward the vested interests of the white one percent, ironically profits from his own machinations with a rubber stamp from Chicago’s black community.