Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign for the runoff election on Tuesday is about what you’d expect; tightly controlled and scripted appearances designed to tout his accomplishments, hide his shortcomings, and make his inexperienced opponent, Cook County Commissioner Chuy Garcia, look like he’s not up to the job.
Emanuel has a comfortable lead over Garcia this last weekend, but he’s still out on the hustings, asking for votes. However, yesterday, Emanuel did himself no favors when TV cameras were rolling and he was unexpectedly confronted by a resident who wasn’t scheduled to talk to him. Kathleen Vulpitta had an uncomfortable question for hizzoner that Emanuel resented.
“We’re concerned with all this crime going on,” Vulpitta told Emanuel. “Like, when I walk down the street, I don’t want to take a purse or anything, you know? And I’m always looking around. We’ve had a lot of robberies.”
The mayor told Vulpitta he’d “call that in” to the new police district commander, and quickly changed the subject. “How’s the tree trimming, garbage pickup?” Emanuel asked.
The exchange left Vulpitta, 53, unsure who she’d vote for.
“I just wanted him to know it’s very important we do something about the crime. I don’t think he was very happy about it, and I think I caught him off guard,” Vulpitta said. “Then he asks about the trees and the garbage. What kind of a reaction is that?”
For Emanuel, the exchange marked an unscripted moment in a carefully controlled, made-for-TV public campaign, one that reflected the reality of his hard-fought bid for a second term: As mayor, he now owns the good and bad impressions voters have of their city, fair or not.
The mayor has responded to that challenge in a manner true to his blue-blood, Washington pedigree. Emanuel, a classically trained ballet dancer, has mastered a political three-step in the runoff campaign: He accentuates his accomplishments, deflects his shortcomings in office and casts his opponent as not up to the job of fixing deep-seated problems the mayor himself has yet to solve.
Much of that message is on display in Emanuel’s closing TV ad. The mayor highlights his expansion of full-day kindergarten, a reduction in crime, attraction of new businesses and an increase in the minimum wage. Then he looks into the camera and admits the city still has a long way to go.
“Chicago’s a great city, but we can do even better,” the mayor says, before pointing a finger at his chest. “And yeah, I hear ya. So can I.”
Gracia, who was once touted as “Chicago’s Bil de Blasio,” is nothing of the sort. The press has made sport of him for his lack of polish and, more importantly, his refusal to say how he is going to fix a fiscal crisis that threatens the solvency of the city while also spending billions more on social welfare programs.
Garcia has been long on promises and short on specific solutions, except to say that Emanuel will raise taxes. Emanuel accuses Garcia of the same thing, which has created a first in politics; both accusations are 100% correct. The next mayor is going to raise taxes — a lot. Gracia has proposed the usual far left “soak the rich” kind of taxes while Emanuel has suggested raising fees for licenses and city services. Most experts in Chicago are convinced either man will be forced to raise property taxes as the quickest, most reliable way to increase city income.
Garcia will form a committee of very smart people to look at all the city’s problems and give him recommendations within 6 months. No one is fooled. He knows his only chance for an upset is to convince low information voters that he can do as good a job as Emanuel in running the city. By being as vague and unspecific as possible, he doesn’t give people an excuse to vote against him.
Emanuel is likely to lose the minority vote and the far left vote in Obama’s old neighborhood of Hyde Park, while winning the traditional Democratic vote overwhelmingly. Chicagoans will grumble about the taxes, the crime, the pension crisis, and probably the failure of the Cubs to win the World Series. But they will hold their nose and vote for the incumbent, trusting he can hold things together while keeping the barbarians out of their neighborhoods.