Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel is facing growing calls for his resignation a full two weeks after the city released the shocking police dashcam video of a city police officer shooting an African-American teen to death.
Ominously for the mayor, those calls have now spread from loud street activists to groups that might normally line up in support behind the city’s Democratic establishment. They may all be smelling Rahm’s blood in the water.
With calls for his resignation seemingly coming from all directions, it must be noted that Emanuel’s troubles did not begin just two weeks ago when a judge forced the city to stop stonewalling and release the video of the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the teen who was shot sixteen times by a Chicago police officer back in 2014.
A former Obama White House Chief of Staff, Emanuel had been dreaming of becoming the Windy City’s mayor for years and few doubted that he left Obama’s White House solely for the purpose of making a run for the city’s top job. In the end, that is exactly what he did. It was the worst kept secret in the city, after all.
While Emanuel won his first election pretty handily, his re-election, only eight months ago, came at a steep cost to his credibility. Early in his campaign, it became clear that his bid was struggling, and large blocs of normally docile voters restlessly searched for someone, anyone, besides Rahm. Ultimately, Emanuel was forced into an embarrassing runoff election—the city’s first ever such runoff—against a candidate who ran purely on platitudes that were very weak on specifics.
The mayor did finally prevail after the embarrassment of a runoff, but he was still left piloting a city with a failed education establishment headed by a union that hates him, a nearly bankrupt budget, and a crumbling infrastructure. Worse, Chicago is one of the few big cities in America experiencing a steady loss of population, meaning that Emanuel is losing his tax base.
Naturally, instead of slashing spending and tightening belts, Emanuel and his city council immediately began to look for ways to raise taxes.
So, with all these troubles already dogging him, the last thing Mayor Emanuel needed was an uprising from the Black Lives Matter crew. But with the Laquan McDonald shooting, that is what he got anyway.
After the city spent a year dragging its feet over the release of the video, the footage finally came out, instantly sparking large-scale street protests sponsored by the local Black Lives Matters groups. But the protests weren’t limited to just this already-reactionary group, famous for destructive riots in cities like Ferguson, Missouri, Philadelphia, and New York. Older, more establishment activists such as the Chicago Teachers Union and Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push also sponsored large-scale protests for days.
For a time, protesters even shut down Black Friday holiday shopping on Chicago’s famed “Magnificent Mile” shopping district, all the while calling for Rahm to resign.
Along with calls for his resignation, almost immediately voices began to wonder if the mayor delayed the release of the video in order to smooth the way for his troubled re-election. After all, the shooting occurred in October of 2014, and the mayor’s re-election was scheduled for only four months later. Critics insisted the Emanuel wanted to keep the gruesome video of McDonald’s death under wraps so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it during his campaign.
Certainly from the first days of the street protests, calls for Emanuel to resign over the Laquan McDonald shooting were heard, but, instead of trailing off, those calls have now grown to a crescendo pitch.
After the first full week of protests that included louder and louder calls for the resignations of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez, and Mayor Emanuel, the mayor came out and fired McCarthy. Emanuel made the move despite spending an entire week beforehand saying that his top cop had his full confidence.
But the sacrificial lamb of the police superintendent didn’t satisfy those calling for the mayor’s head. In fact, it may have just egged them on.
Feeling the pressure, Emanuel directed the Chicago Tribune to publish an op-ed bearing his name in which he flatly denied that he delayed the release of the video for political reasons or to help his re-election campaign, and he promised—again—to fix all that ails the city.
But it wasn’t enough.
Only days ago, Emanuel tried yet another tactic to quell calls for his ouster; he made a near tear-filled public apology before the City Council.
Emanuel spent 40 minutes apologizing for the city’s failures and once again promising that he was going to fix it all in a speech where he seemed to almost—but not quite—burst out in tears over how deeply he feels for his duty to the city.
Yet even as Emanuel was delivering his mea culpa, a pair of Chicago-based Democratic state legislators were filing a bill in the state capital of Springfield to change the law and allow for a recall election in the Windy City in order to give citizens at least one option to force the mayor out if he won’t go on his own.
Still, despite the speech that local news outlets called “heartfelt” and “genuine,” protesters hit the streets only hours later, renewing their call for his resignation and scoffing at his “crocodile tears.” Some even enlarged their calls by demanding that his entire top team resign. Others went in yet another direction and wanted the de-funding of the entire police department.
Worse for him, the mayor also isn’t facing just one glowing fire. As the city is forced to continue releasing videos of other questionable deaths at the hands of Chicago’s finest, brush fires are breaking out all over the place.
Members of the media are also increasingly siding with the protesters, calling for Rahm’s resignation and wondering how long a man can last who made himself famous for saying that politicians shouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste.
Media outlets such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have all published stories variously calling for his resignation or doubting the mayor’s ability to weather this storm.
Chicago and Illinois pols aren’t the only ones turning their attention to the troubles mounting in Chi-town, either. Early this week, Obama’s Department of Justice also reported that it is looking into the culture at the Chicago Police Department and launching a probe trolling for civil rights violations over the death of Laquan McDonald.
It all amounts to a situation for the mayor that seems to get worse with every move he makes. Far from finding a crisis he can’t let go to waste, Emanuel may have finally found a crisis that will instead waste him.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.