Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to muster 50% of the vote in the city’s non-partisan mayoral primary, which means he will face off against second place finisher, Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on April 7.
Four years ago, Emanuel swept to an easy victory. But a rising murder rate, controversy over the closing of 50 public schools, and a $20 billion pension shortfall that threatens to bankrupt the city, has taken its toll on his popularity. Emanuel won only 45% of the vote while the relatively unknown Garcia took 33%.
More than the issues, there is a sense in Chicago that Emanuel is too cozy with the elites and has lost touch with ordinary Chicagoans. Blacks are upset over the school closings and the gang violence that makes their streets almost unlivable. Hispanics flocked to Garcia’s banner, and some analysts think that he has a chance to knock off the incumbent.
Mayoral underdog Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has a fighting chance in an April runoff election against well-funded incumbent Rahm Emanuel but political insiders say he must broaden his coalition beyond the Hispanic voters and disgruntled teachers who boosted him so far.
Garcia must also persuade tough-minded Chicagoans that he can do a better job than the mayor at keeping trains running and police on the streets as the city’s budget gap balloons past $1 billion.
The sometimes abrasive Emanuel displeased enough voters to help Garcia force the first mayoral runoff since Chicago adopted a non-partisan election format in the mid-1990s. Both candidates are Democrats.
While the mild-mannered Garcia appealed to many in the first round, “Chicago does not need a nice guy. … We need someone who can deal with enormous financial difficulties,” said Paul Green, professor of policy studies at Roosevelt University.
However, Emanuel, once seen as certain to win re-election, is vulnerable after getting substantially less than the 50 percent of votes he needed for an outright win in Tuesday’s first round.
The former White House chief of staff and investment banker will go head to head in the April 7 runoff against Garcia, a county commissioner and former Chicago alderman.
Garcia’s base is in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, and he has to overcome a reputation as being reluctant to slash spending. Emanuel, who did best in the wealthy lakefront on Tuesday, must play down his reputation for arrogance.
Garcia, who got very few endorsements from people with clout, will court non-committal public unions, wealthy liberals and working-class African Americans and white ethnic voters.
Emanuel has made things so bad in Chicago that voters may feel he’s the only one who can get the city out of its budget and fiscal mess. They may also see Emanual as better able to handle the new Republican governor in Springfield, Bruce Rauner, who wants to trim state payments to the city by a whopping $300 million.
That almost certainly won’t happen, as Democrats in the legislature are already circling the wagons to protect the pension and benefits of public unions, and will see to it that not a dime is cut from the state’s payments to Chicago. But Rauner may look to Emanuel as an ally in his efforts to reform the state pension system, giving the mayor some leverage he can use to extract more cash from the state.
Emanuel should win the runoff. But stranger things have happened in Chicago politics, including a little known alderman named Harold Washington defeating incumbent Jane Byrne in the Democratic primary in 1983. Washington, the only black mayor in the city’s history, came out of nowhere to beat Byrne, the Democratic establishment’s candidate. He did it by uniting north shore liberals, unions, and minorities — the same coalition that Garcia wants to form to beat Emanuel.
Contrary to popular belief, lightening does strike in the same place.