Last week, Chicago voted, and last week Chicago sent a message.
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel came in first place against four challengers in his bid for re-election, he failed to secure the 50 percent plus one necessary to avoid a runoff.
This result came despite outspending all of his opponents combined, including second-place finisher Jesus “Chuy” Garcia by a nearly 12-to-1 margin, and getting the endorsement of Chicago’s favorite son, President Barack Obama. The result is an embarrassment to a man whom many think has ambitions that go beyond the fifth floor of city hall. The results have sent shockwaves nationally.
While many national pundits have theorized what the mayor’s troubles might mean to other moderate Democrats who stray too far from the party’s base, what this result proves is the old adage that all politics is local, and that money does not always buy votes. This was evidenced by the numerous runoffs that Emanuel-backed candidates now face, as well as how well some of the mayor’s opponents did. More on that later.
The mayor has a likeability problem. He is perceived as arrogant, hardheaded and out of touch with the struggles of many Chicagoans. Examples throughout his tenure include the manner in which he closed nearly 50 public schools, the handling of the teacher’s strike, and crime. Many of these issues have disproportionateky affected poor and minority communities.
In the next six weeks, Emanuel will have to shed his “Mayor 1 percent” image and open up more to the people who are not sharing in much of the success that the city has had over the past four years. The mayor’s record is not a bad one, but style matters.
For Garcia, the mayor’s runoff opponent, the challenge will be to provide more specific details about his plans for the city. So far, Garcia has not offered any substance as to how he would pay for the 1,000 additional police officers he seeks to hire, nor has he discussed a realistic way to address Chicago’s dire fiscal situation.
The initial election could be viewed as a mere protest vote where the anybody-but-Rahm crowd had their day. Yet, the dynamics are different in a head-to-head matchup. Just like how Emanuel has to convince voters that he hears their voices, Garcia has to prove that he can effectively govern the third-largest city in the country.
In addition, both candidates will have to fight for a key voting block that is still largely up for grabs: the black vote. While many African-Americans voted for Emanuel, he did not receive a majority in any majority-black wards. Garcia came in third in the black community, coming behind Emanuel and businessman Willie Wilson.
Both candidates will have to aggressively court that community, with Emanuel hoping to win back the majority that he won in 2011, and Garcia trying to put back together the black-Latino-progressive white coalition that propelled his political mentor, the late Mayor Harold Washington, into office in 1983.
Either way, it will be an interesting six weeks with the first ever Chicago mayoral runoff.
Yet the mayoral race is not the only one headed to a runoff. Many of the candidates backed by the pro-Emanuel Chicago Forward PAC will be headed into runoffs including Deb Mell (33rd Ward), James Cappleman (46th Ward) and Michele Smith (43rd Ward).
Here in Lincoln Park, Smith undoubtedly has a race on her hands. While a runoff in this race was not unexpected, the incumbent polled in at only a little more than 41 percent, while challenger Caroline Vickrey’s percentage was a surprisingly high 36 percent.
The number one issue is development. While Smith repeatedly emphasized that she held an open process during the planning of the development at the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site and that she had to compromise amongst several different interests, it has fallen on deaf ears by those who are closest to the new development.
An analysis of last week’s results show that Vickrey’s strongest support came from precincts that surround the development along Lincoln Avenue. Smith’s support is scattered throughout the neighborhood.
While Smith has the backing of Emanuel, it may not help her in the runoff. The mayor won 72 percent of the 43rd Ward, which means that more than 30 percent of ward voters split their ticket between the mayor and Smith. Again, all politics is local.
The key to this race appears to be Jen Kramer and her supporters. Kramer’s supporters, who represented roughly 17 percent of last week’s vote, could put either Smith or Vickrey over the top. This race has been an ugly one. Voters can expect another six weeks of political food fights in the 43rd Ward.