Who Will Fill the Shoes of Daley in Chicago?

Only those who aren’t native Chicagoans thought that Rahm Emanuel would not run for the office of mayor. “It’s a political dead end,” two of the most sophisticated, but non-native observers of Chicago politics that I know said to me over the din of the DJ’s ear-splitting music in the bar of W Chicago Lakeshore.

Like news, in America, most politics is local. In Chicago, all politics is local. And all politics is identity politics, the crudest kind of identity politics. The kind that makes Representative Loretta Sanchez’s race in California look like something aimed at the national interest.

The mayor’s office is a kingdom that dispenses enormous patronage and holds at bay the competing ethnic-anointed lords and their minions. Chicago’s mayors and even powerful aldermen have no aspiration for anything else.

Vito Marzullo, often inaccurately described as the last of the old machine bosses, ran the 25th Ward like a sovereign duchy out of the Holy Roman Empire. Approached to run for the U.S. Senate, Marzullo thought about it for a few days and then gave a response that only those who understand Chicago politics could appreciate. Marzullo concluded that a senator could dispense half a dozen or so jobs at most, while as alderman he controlled hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Marzullo thought the Chicago organization was trying to “screw” him by sending him to the Senate.

Chicago’s dynamic and architecturally impressive skyline now belies a city that is broke in a state that is insolvent. The tax base is waning, forcing increases among those who can still pay. There are insufficient epithets in the language to appropriately describe the condition of the public school system. Street gangs brazenly stand before the media and demand a piece of the ever-shrinking pie. There are now insufficient resources to buy the cooperation of the ethnic political nobility, let alone the gangs.

Chicago has always been a challenge, but it is now even more so. It is the kind of challenge made for someone with Rahm Emanuel’s experience and ego. It is clearly not one that can be met with a repetition of the disastrous policies Emanuel helped craft for the Obama administration. But Emanuel’s biggest problem is that he has little credibility with the black community, which comprises 35% of the city.

Each ethnic group will field its own candidates. In the black community, the current favorite is state Senator James T. Meeks, the latest spiritual advisor to President Obama. Reverend Meeks is described as a man who sees all politics through the color spectrum and little else. As a social conservative, the outspoken Meeks is practically at war with the gay community. Meeks needs a crossover white vote to win, but liberals, those most likely to cross the racial divide, are put off by his anti-gay agenda and his flamboyant proposals to solve the school crisis by equalizing the tax-based allotment per pupil.