Obviously, Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral election pitted Democrats on the left against Democrats on the further left against Democrats who might as well have come out of a Karl Marx treatise, but that’s no reason to play off Tuesday’s election results. After all, while I might care about it because I live here, Rahm Emanuel’s failure to clinch re-election speaks volumes about how the progressive left, which once saw the Obama team as saviors bearing manna from heaven, have now abandoned their fearless leaders because their election failed to produce real progressive results.
Instead of hitting the 51 percent needed to take the title, Emanuel halted at 45 percent and will now face a runoff against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, making his path to Chicago’s traditional “Mayor for Life” role much more difficult than originally anticipated.
Rahm Emanuel, who was easily elected mayor of this city four years ago, was dealt a setback Tuesday. Though he came in first among five candidates, Mr. Emanuel failed to seal a second term by winning support from enough voters to avoid a riskier runoff election this spring.
It was a serious blow after a campaign in which Mr. Emanuel had a huge fund-raising edge over lesser-known opponents, not to mention an in-person endorsement last week from President Obama in his adopted hometown.
The outcome underscored Mr. Emanuel’s newfound vulnerability in a mostly Democratic city that had not had a mayoral runoff since it began holding nonpartisan elections 16 years ago. In 2011, Mr. Emanuel swept into office on a first balloting with more than 55 percent of the vote in his first run for mayor.
Don’t be fooled. It isn’t an election Rahm Emanuel intends to lose, though he will have stiff competition. Of the four candidates that competed against Emanuel, Garcia was the unions’ preferred choice (specifically the Chicago Teachers Union’s), gained grassroots support from MoveOn.org (which lent him their email list for get out the vote purposes), and was, in many districts, running alongside progressive aldermanic candidates and a CTU initative to replace the current schoolboard — which is appointed by the mayor — with an elected school board. Democratic as that might sound, it demonstrates how much of the uphill climb Emanuel has faced comes from his opposition to Chicago’s powerful teachers union and, specifically, the head of CTU, Karen Lewis (after all, an “elected school board” would, of course, allow unions to stack the deck with their own people using the vast economic and political resources at hand, at the expense of their membership).
Before Emanuel had even changed up the furniture in the Mayor’s office, CPS tested his mettle with a seven-day strike over a contract dispute with the city. Rahm was unfazed, and approached the conflict with what many union leaders termed, to Reuters, “a bulldozer,” something that, knowning the progressive system that birthed Emanuel as a candidate, should shock pretty much everyone. It earned him a very tough mayoral race, but not from Lewis, who revealed in September, after teasing her own mayoral campaign, that she was suffering from a brain tumor, but from Garcia, a city commissioner who earned Lewis’s blessing. On Tuesday, Garcia won about 33 percent of the vote (with only about a 33 percent turnout), but did snag some key wards on the city’s South and West sides.
I’d caution Republicans to hold their glee, even though one of Obama’s own has clearly faceplanted into the cement. Garcia isn’t a win for the city, unless he’s able to magically procure billions in funding to re-open schools and hire thousands of police officers that the city can’t afford, being that it’s already teetering on bankruptcy, and yesterday’s voters cast ballots for some pretty strange reasons (granted, that’s not unusual for Chicago, considering that a great percentage of our voting public is undead). But there is one thing that Republicans can take to heart: when Rahm was forced to govern, his progressive exterior melted away. Chicago’s progressive left doesn’t see him as active enough, and even reliable community organizers are marketing against him. Widespread distrust of the Obama machine may not mean that the GOP can pick up the more dedicated elements, but it does mean that there’s ground to be gained among the more moderate disenfranchised. “Change” has lost its meaning and the Obama machine has lost its luster.