Did Rahm Emanuel Fail Chicago?
FIRST A LITTLE BREAKING NEWS
The local Chicago SEIUs just endorsed Chuy Garcia over Emanuel this afternoon. This is a huge big deal and the necessary step towards getting the international SEIU to get on board.
There have been quite a few times over the years that Blue America has run newspaper and broadcast ads in Spanish. There was only one time, however, that Blue America ran a series of ads in community newspapers in Korean, Polish, Urdu (as well as Spanish and English). It was 2007 and the occasion was an accountability moment for anti-immigrant knave Rahm Emanuel.
A few weeks before, Democratic Party insiders under the aegis of the DCCC held a training session in Chicago for a couple dozen of their favored candidates. Afterwards several of the participants, disgusted, let Blue America know that Rahm Emanuel delivered an ominous message demanding that they "move to the right" on immigration. Some of the Democratic candidates, like Emanuel puppets Bill Foster (IL) and Joan Fitz-Gerald (CO), had already started sounding very Republican on the issue, breaking Democratic solidarity and threatening unity by seeking short term advantage based on demagoguery against a vulnerable part of our coalition.
In effect, Emanuel had teamed up with xenophobic bigot Tom Tancredo through his North Carolina tool Heath Shuler. And yet Emanuel's North Side Chicago district was one of the nation's most immigrant-friendly districts. It always has been. And Emanuel never tired of telling the immigrant communities that he was their best friend. Many knew better than to believe him because his actions-- and his inactions-- spoke far louder than his words. Nearly 25% of Emanuel's former congressional district were of Hispanic descent and there are almost as many Polish-Americans in the district. Plenty of South Asians and Koreans had also made the district home.
Blue America teamed up with Illinois' largest immigrants' rights coalition, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, to help bring a little accountability into his life. The series of ads in the languages of the district were customized for the various communities. In the end, this didn't stop Emanuel from getting the House Democratic Caucus to throw immigration reform under the bus, preventing Congress from considering broad immigration legislation. At the time, Emanuel's office was the invisible hand behind Heath Shuler's anti-Hispanic HR 4088 which was all about more border guards, more high tech surveillance, mandatory verification for employees and and more enhanced law-enforcement capabilities for cracking down on illegal immigrants who are already in the country. After reading it, Chicago Congressman Luis Gutiérrez said, "We might as well put the Republicans in charge."
Last month Gutiérrez, a progressive on policy but a pathetic machine hack politically, endorsed Emanuel for mayor against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Disgracefully, Gutiérrez is a co-chair of Emanuel's Fat Cat reelection campaign. Hopefully, you read Chicago-based historian Rick Perlstein's post Friday about the epic battle between Mayor One Percent and the forces for a progressive Chicago. Perlstein's concern that the privatization, austerity, and authoritarian governance that have marked Emanuel's first term and have threatened the face of Chicago itself, is on the ballot in the April 7 runoff. 55% of voters-- in a very low turnout-- cast ballots against Emanuel. His $30 million war-chest didn't buy him reelection. Chuy's 34% came as a shock to the papers, the pundits, the pollsters, all of whom had been predicting Emanuel would figure above the 50% mark.
Now Blue America is trying to help Chuy and his team raise the contributions they need to compete against Emanuel's Big Money Machine. Perlstein has donated 20 autographed books-- a choice of Nixonland or his most recent The Invisible Bridge-- which will go to 20 random contributors-- regardless of amount-- on this page. Blue America is also giving away a rare, collectible RIAA-certified quadruple platinum award for the Barenaked Ladies breakthrough album, STUNT, which, to a great extent, crossed over from Canada to Chicago and then broke across the U.S., especially Chicago radio smashes One Week and Call And Answer. Winners for the books and the plaque will be randomly chosen tomorrow (Monday). Please contribute to Chuy's campaign... whatever you can, here on our 2015 Blue America page.
An OpEd in yesterday's Chicago Sun Times calls the runoff a "horse race" and outlines 3 voter groups the two candidates need to win over:
TEST #1: THE BLACK VOTEThis morning, writing for Salon, former White House advisor Bill Curry explored how Chuy forced Rahm, an anti-liberal union-hater, into a runoff. "What a week ago seemed a liberal fantasy, Rahm’s imminent demise," he wrote, "is suddenly a very real possibility."
African-Americans carried Emanuel to victory four years ago on the conviction that he was “somebody that somebody sent.” That Somebody was the first black president of the United States.
This time around, pre-election bro-hugs notwithstanding, the ground has shifted under both Barack Obama and his former chief of staff, Emanuel.
The mayor got significantly fewer black votes this time around, though he still came in first ahead of Willie Wilson, followed by Garcia in black wards.
What will be Garcia’s counterclaim?
He’ll point to his early alliance with Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. And the fact that while in the Illinois state Senate in the 1990s, he and Senate colleague Miguel del Valle were the first two Hispanics to join the Black Caucus.
Endorsements will be interesting.
What will Willie Wilson, the African-American millionaire who came in 2nd in black wards, do? Whom will County Board President Toni Preckwinkle back? Their voices will be more important in April than President Obama’s was in February.
TEST #2: THE WHITE ETHNIC VOTE
The bungalow belt along Chicago’s Northwest and Southwest Sides is a complicated vote. The Emanuel forces believe citizens here worry more about their property tax bills, which the mayor has not raised, than income inequality arguments advanced by Garcia.
Whatever the focus, the wards in these parts of the city hold a high percentage of union members and government workers.
Pensions-- and whatever solution is deemed constitutional to solve their insolvency-- is a flame that burns brightly here.
The announcement on Friday of Moody’s downgrade of the city’s bonds is another piece of dreadful news. Garcia claims it is further evidence of the fiscal cliff the mayor has failed to pull us back from. But Emanuel points to a variety of ratings agencies that have said positive things about his efforts to rein in debt.
Neither Garcia nor Emanuel has been specific about painful revenue remedies that will, in the view of voters, squeeze blood from a turnip.
TEST #3: THE HISPANIC VOTE
This is Garcia’s base but it has not been a homogeneous vote. When Garcia was in the Legislature, it was the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) in concert with Mayor Daley that set out to kill his re-election because he was not playing ball with the regulars.
Elected officials like city clerk Susana Mendoza and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez were campaign co-chairs for the mayor in the February election. And remain supporters now. And Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios, who is also the assessor of Cook County, is no friend of Garcia’s but waged his own battles for control in aldermanic races. But their coattails are in serious doubt.
Will Hispanic voters turn out for Garcia as African-Americans did for Washington in 1983?
You’d have to think so.
This election is a horse race.
A fascinating story.
But the candidates both have a lot of evangelizing left to do.
A Garcia victory would be a historic watershed not just for Chicago or for Democrats but for all progressives. It wouldn’t just frighten the Wall Street Dems who now reign over their national party. It would alter the terms of debate even beyond the party and prove, to cynics and to ourselves, that the power of ideas is still greater than the power of money and that grass-roots politics is not dead.
It’s a race progressives know how to win. It’s a general election, but with an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate and likely low turnout it will function more like a primary. If progressives grasp its significance they’ll invest the energy and resources it takes to win. Many are already doing just that. But to those who need convincing, allow me to make the case. It comes down to just two points. The first is all about who Rahm Emanuel is, and who and what he represents.
Even in elective office Rahm strikes people less as a political leader than what he is: a lifelong political operative. He was once executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. For a while he specialized in “opposition research,” meaning campaigns hired him to dig up dirt on their opponents. But his forte was raising money, in large amounts, from people who had plenty of it.
By the time he was 30 he’d taken up permanent residence in the world of political high rollers he inhabits to this day. As Bill Clinton’s 1992 finance director he ran the biggest fundraising machine the Democratic Party had ever seen. While doing that job he was also on the Goldman Sachs payroll, a seeming violation of “black letter” campaign finance law that was never looked into.
...In Congress he hewed right on economic and fiscal policy and was a hawk on defense. As Obama’s chief of staff he purged Clinton-era liberals, which resulted in a team of economic advisers more conservative than that of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland. Whether following their advice or his own instincts, Obama ditched ethics reform, aid to homeowners with bad mortgages, a minimum wage hike and the public option; a disastrous set of choices from which he never fully recovered.
Through it all Rahm cultivated his image as a ruthless operative. By the time he got to be mayor of Chicago he was the Keyser Soze of the Democratic Party, shrouded in legend, a guy who if you crossed him would slit your throat as you slept. It was a reputation he relished.
Rahm’s corporatist worldview, bruising personal style and stunted ethics made the city a testing ground for two major conservative agendas: corporate education reform and “privatization.” His education agenda led to a bitter teachers’ strike and the closing of 50 public schools, many serving the city’s poorest residents.
Those closings are often cited as flash points of the current revolt but there were others. During last July 4 weekend, 82 shootings resulting in 14 deaths focused national attention on the murder rate among Chicago’s young black men. The crisis cried out for creative, sustained civic dialogue but Rahm hadn’t the patience, empathy or eloquence to provide that kind of leadership.
The X factor is a deepening discontent over Rahm’s privatization schemes, recently laid out in a superb article by Rick Perlstein in In These Times. Here’s but one example plucked from a long, infuriating list:
In 2012 the transit authority commissioned a private contractor to issue transit cards that residents without bank accounts could use as prepaid debit cards. Buried in a 1,000-page agreement was an ugly array of hidden fees: $1.50 for ATM withdrawals; $2.95 to deposit money with a credit card; $2 to call a service rep; $10 for “research”; $6 to close an account. For designing a system to bilk the poor on such a grand scale, the company was paid $454 million.
Emanuel turned Chicago into a playland for people who, like him, mastered the art of spinning political influence into gold. If Garcia wins, it will reflect voters’ disaffection with a mayor who’s all bully and no pulpit, but also their revulsion to see such blatant profiteering at taxpayer expense. In an interview, United Working Families executive director Kristen Crowell said she was “astounded at voters’ rejection of corporate politics as a way of doing the city’s business.”
It is what Justice Kennedy in his willfully naive Citizens United opinion called “soft corruption”: not simple bribery but the subtler corruption of modern pay-for-play politics. Citing no proof-- there isn’t any-- Kennedy wrote that soft corruption does little harm to the state and is of no interest to voters. In fact it is a cancer devouring our democracy and voters care deeply about it.
Rahm isn’t just a poster boy for soft corruption; he holds a patent on it. On the Democratic side of the aisle he stands with Tony Coehlo, Chuck Schumer, maybe Terry McAuliffe and, sad to say, both Presidents Clinton and Obama. It’s why his election means so much to the nation and it’s why he may lose.
Believing you can dial every day for Wall Street dollars and still stand up for the middle class is like believing you can smoke crack every day and still be a good parent. Left unaddressed, the contradiction between what Democrats do to get elected and what they promise to do in office will destroy them. We need a whole new model, which brings us to who Jésus “Chuy” Garcia is and who and what he represents.
Like Rahm, Chuy has spent much of his life in politics. There the similarity ends. Rahm is a longtime ally of Chicago’s fabled Daley political machine, Chuy is a member of the party’s reform wing and was a protégé of the late Mayor Harold Washington, who ran against and beat future Mayor Richard M. Daley. In a real sense, this is but the latest battle in a 30 years’ war between the city’s reform and machine factions.
From the first, Garcia was a leader, not an operative. At 28 he got elected to the city council, where he served seven years before moving on to the state Senate. He served six years there before losing a primary to a Daley-backed opponent. When he left politics he turned not to high finance but to the nonprofit sector, becoming director of a community development corporation. Four years ago he reentered politics by winning election to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. In his staunch progressive record and subdued personal style he’s the anti-Rahm; a guy who proves he’s tough just by taking principled stands and then sticking to them.
Last Tuesday should never have happened. Rahm had a huge war chest, a vaunted machine, Wall Street and Hollywood connections and an endorsement from Chicago’s own Barack Obama. Rahm outspent Chuy 12-to-1. So what did he do wrong? Nothing really-- except, of course, for how he governed. The answer lies rather in who Garcia represents and in what they did right.
A month ago I wrote that progressives need a Tea Party of our own; not an Astro-turfed array of angry extremists but a grass-roots movement fueled by volunteerism and funded by small donors. Like the Tea Party, it would be independent, backing major party candidates who stay true to its values, and ousting ones who don’t. I said then the group closest to figuring it out was the Working Families Party. I wish I could say now I sensed how soon they’d do it.
The coalition taking Rahm to the mat works off the same model as the Working Families Party and even shares some of its DNA. It includes a dozen unions and community organizations, including the Chicago Teachers Union. Its basic tools are knocking on doors-- it hit 153,000 in round one-- and calling people up on the phone. Its members are rooted in their community and its message is rooted in its values. It may be about to topple one of the most powerful and least progressive Democrats in the nation. It is exactly seven months old.
The race confuses Washington. It’s a colorless town and for years Rahm was its most colorful figure, a source not just of news but of dark comic relief. Reporters imbibe the views of politicians who think the rules of the game immutable. This week even the astute E.J. Dionne compared Rahm to Bill de Blasio, “a hero to progressives,” calling it “mildly ironic” that “left of center voters” would give Rahm such a hard time.
Many progressives don’t get it either. If you put them all on Sodium Pentothal and asked if grass-roots politics can still beat big money, my hunch is they’d say no. Many pray the party will reform itself. Obama’s late awakening fans that flame. But if you want to know how likely that is, peruse the numbingly vacant report the DNC issued last week allegedly laying out its vision. Frederick Douglass said it best. Power concedes nothing without a demand.
On April 7 pay-to-play politics goes on trial in Chicago. The voters will be the judges. Crowell says holding Rahm accountable was a victory in itself, but she knows now it’s a fight they can win. For sure it’s an uphill climb, but then just last week it was impossible.
You can contribute to Chuy's campaign here. There's no such thing as a contribution that is too small.
UPDATE: First Poll: Dead Heat!
Chu is just getting started but the first poll is already showing a dead heat between himself and Mayor 1%.
A Chicago polling firm is calling the city’s runoff campaign between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia a “dead heat.”
New numbers from Ogden & Fry show Garcia, a member of the Cook County board of commissioners, within reach of the one-term Emanuel. And the firm warned that the Hispanic population under-polls, meaning that population is underrepresented in the data.
“They’re likely dead even,” pollster Tom Swiss said Sunday night... In the Saturday poll of 979 likely voters, Emanuel had 42.9 percent support to Garcia’s 38.5 percent.