Rahm, Obama Stumble With Chicago Voters

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green
Chicago, IL

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fell far short of the 50 percent of the vote he needed to avoid a run-off in the Mayoral primary. Emanuel earned an anemic 45% of the vote against a slate of 4 largely unknown and underfunded challengers. He now faces Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who won 34% of the vote, in the April 7th run-off, the first in Chicago’s history.

“Today, we the people have spoken,” Garcia told a raucous crowd of supporters. “Not the people with the money and the power and the connections, not the giant corporations, the big money special interests, the hedge funds and Hollywood celebrities who poured tens of millions of dollars into the mayor’s campaign.”

Emanuel, a former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, was widely expected to avoid a run-off. His most formidable potential challengers had bowed out of the race. Karen Lewis, head of the powerful Chicago Teachers Union and a vocal opponent of Emanuel was forced out of the race by a cancerous brain tumor.

Emanuel also enjoyed the backing of the entire Chicago political and business establishment. He was endorsed by both major newspapers and officially had 13 times the funding of his nearest rival, Garcia.

President Obama even provided a late boost to Emanuel’s campaign, appearing with him at an event on Chicago’s South Side. The presidential visit was intended to boost African-American turnout for Emanuel.

Obama also featured prominently in the more than $7 million in TV ads aired by the Emanuel campaign. One ad, in particular, showed Obama embracing Emanuel. Despite Obama’s visit, Emanuel was crushed in the South Side wards.

Emanuel did best in the heavily white, affluent wards on Chicago’s North Side and along the lakefront. Most interestingly, however, was Emanuel’s performance in Wards 11 and 13, the heart and soul of the old Daley political machine.

In Ward 11, still represented by a member of the powerful Daley clan, Emanuel pulled just 48 percent. He did slightly better in Ward 13, controlled by powerful House Speaker and Dem party boss Michael Madigan, winning just over 50 percent of the vote. A mayor with Emanuel’s public backing would have been expected to post far stronger numbers in these wards.

The major obstacle to Emanuel’s candidacy is the rise of a very robust progressive wing in the city’s Democrat party. Issues of race and income inequality are always close to the surface in Chicago politics, but had been kept in check by the Democrat party’s powerful political machine.

As Garcia’s comment to supporters indicates, those issues are now at the forefront of the city’s politics. Lewis, who won a showdown with Emanuel over public school reform, gave loud voice to them as she explored a mayoral run.

“When will we address the fact that rich, white people, think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level,” she said, according to a report from EAG News service.

Obama and national Democrats have fanned the flames of racial animosity and class envy for the past six years. Voters in the base of the Democrat party were clearly paying attention and are responding with a hard tack to the left on many issues.

On the mean streets of Chicago, Emanuel, and Obama, are reaping the bitter harvest of their rhetorical seeds.