During the second televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the latter attacked the former with a verbal quip that represented the growing angst felt by many Chicagoans towards Emanuel’s increasingly disconnected administration.
“You are not King of the city,” Garcia told Emanuel while the two were engaged in a heated debate about Chicago’s financial future. The line perfectly encapsulated a palpable dissatisfaction with the mayor. As a consequence of this discontent, Emanuel finds himself in a fight to retain his seat in a city where mayoral re-elections are virtually guaranteed.
However, the combination of the mayor’s support for the unpopular red-light cameras (although he has removed some cameras in recent months), the stubbornly high murder rate, the closing of 50 Chicago Public Schools in mostly black communities without much community support and the still stagnant economy find the mayor fighting to retain his seat.
If you include the the public’s perception of Emanuel as entitled — typified by his tone-deaf snapping at advocates for the mentally ill with the infamous line, “You’re gonna respect me!” (a line only uttered by a man whose mother never imparted the wisdom of receiving respect only when it is first given) — perhaps the much criticized mayor should feel fortunate that he is only facing a runoff as opposed to questions about what his next political move with be.
To be fair, despite proposing some fairly ambitious projects, “Chuy” Garcia has yet to provide much in the way of specifics in support of his proposals. He promises to deal with the steep increase in police and fire pension payments and to raise the number of police officers in the city’s most crime infested communities, but has offered little in the way of details to explain how he would budget these initiatives without also cutting services and programs in the way that Mayor Emanuel has.
However, as is the case with most elections involving an already occupied seat, this election will be a referendum on the incumbent. Mayor Emanuel has done more to anger the Democratic base in Chicago than few elected officials before him, especially the teachers union.
Garcia has made no secret about his deep deference to the CTU, which is perhaps most responsible for the former community organizer’s success on Feb. 24.
There is a strong possibility that Mayor Emanuel will emerge victorious from the run-off on April 7 and he will avoid the dubious distinction of being the first sitting Chicago Mayor unable to hold office since Mayor Michael Bilandic in 1979.
Similar to Emanuel, Mayor Bilandic’s primary loss to Jane Byrne was a perfect storm of communal discontent prompted by a strong belief that the sitting mayor just was not concerned about the welfare of his constituents.
In Bilandic’s case, it was the perception that the city’s belated response to the blizzard of 1979 was emblematic of his entire administration. Bilandic was viewed as out-of-touch and not concerned with the struggles of the average city dweller, who had to wait days for adequate snow removal on their blocks.
Emanuel has unwittingly followed the Bilandic script to perfection. The only question is, ‘Will his endorsements from The Chicago Tribune and his seemingly limitless financial capital be enough to salvage his seat?’
If Emanuel is able to survive the runoff and serve another four years, I hope that he views this brush with infamy with the spirit for which it was intended. The voters may save him, but they are by no means voicing support for his administration. In his second term, he needs to address the CTU and the mental health advocates, not with bloviating egomaniacal rants asserting his own importance, but with a desire to learn about the concerns of his constituents and to improve in his second term.
When the dust settles on April 7, there will either be a new mayor or a re-elected mayor who would have received the least enthusiastic voter backing in recent memory. Either way, the people have spoken: They want democracy, not a monarchy.