Only one in five Chicago voters credit Mayor Rahm Emanuel with doing a better job of running the city than Richard M. Daley did, and only 29 percent would support him if the mayoral election were held today.
Those are the results of a new poll conducted for Early & Often, the Chicago Sun-Times’ political portal. The telephone survey of 511 registered Chicago voters who said they were “very likely” to go to the polls on Feb. 24 was conducted Wednesday by the firm of McKeon & Associates.
“Right now, Rahm is not connecting. If he doesn’t do that, he’s gonna lose,” McKeon said.
Emanuel is raising campaign cash at a frenzied pace — with more than $7 million in the bank already and former President Bill Clinton headlining a mega-fundraiser next month — in hopes of scaring off serious challengers.
He’d better hope the strategy works, according to the new poll, which measured Emanuel’s support against County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — the challenger City Hall fears most — along with three others: Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd); Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and former Ald. Robert Shaw (9th).
Shaw is the only declared mayoral challenger.
If the election were held today, Emanuel would find himself in a horse race.
The mayor would get 29 percent of the vote to Preckwinkle’s 26 percent. The poll shows Lewis finishing third with 10 percent, followed by Fioretti at 5 percent and Shaw with 3 percent. An estimated 27 percent of voters interviewed were undecided.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, higher when the results are broken down by demographic factors. More than 39 percent of respondents were interviewed on their cellphones.
Emanuel has alienated African-American voters who helped put him in office by instigating Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years, closing 50 public schools, opening new charter schools and unveiling plans to build new schools and school additions, with the educational largesse heavily concentrated on the North Side.
That includes a $14 million addition to Walter Payton College Prep and a new, $60 million selective enrollment high school nearby named after President Barack Obama, whose 2011 endorsement of his former White House chief of staff sealed the deal with black voters.
The political fallout of those actions and persistent crime showed in the new poll.
Among African-American voters surveyed, Emanuel gets 8 percent, barely above the 3 percent registered by Fioretti and Shaw. Preckwinkle got 35 percent. Lewis scored 16 percent.
Another warning sign is the mayor’s meager 2 percent showing among Hispanics, Chicago’s fastest-growing demographic group, compared with Preckwinkle’s 40 percent.
John Kupper, Emanuel’s longtime political consultant, could not be reached for comment on the poll results. Ken Snyder, Preckwinkle’s chief political adviser, had no immediate comment.
The Early & Often Poll is based on a random sample of 511 registered Chicago voters who said they were “very likely” to vote in the February 24, 2015 election. It was conducted by McKeon & Associates. Respondants were contacted by telephone on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. More than 39 percent were reached on their cellphones. The survey has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points, larger for demographic subgroups. The complete poll results can be downloaded from mckeonandassociates.com
Emanuel has announced a seemingly endless string of contract and ethics reforms in an attempt to turn the page from the Hired Truck, city hiring, minority contracting and contract cronyism scandals that cast a giant shadow over the Daley years.
But it apparently hasn’t resonated with some voters, perhaps because of Emanuel’s contentious relationship with Inspector General Joe Ferguson, who recently was reappointed.
Among voters surveyed who identify themselves as political independents, Preckwinkle holds a 36 percent to 27 percent edge over the mayor.
Emanuel’s political strength is among white voters, where he holds a more than 3-to-1 margin over Preckwinkle and among voters 60 and older, where the margin is better than 2-to-1.
Daley’s support for Emanuel was an open secret at City Hall, even though Chicago’s longest-serving mayor publicly professed neutrality after his surprise decision to retire from politics.
But since taking office, Emanuel has criticized, abandoned and even ridiculed many of the policies proposed by his predecessor and political mentor.
Most of all, Emanuel has blamed Daley — without mentioning the former mayor by name — for the widely despised parking meter deal, for the financial time bombs left behind at City Hall and Chicago Public Schools, and for failing to solve the $20 billion pension crisis that has prompted a Wall Street rating agency to drop Chicago’s bond rating four notches in eight months.
That’s what makes results of the Daley-Emanuel comparison question so surprising.
Asked whether Emanuel was doing a better job running the city than Daley did, 51 percent of voters surveyed said no, 18 percent said yes and 25 percent said the two were “about the same.”
McKeon said what surprised him most about the poll was “how competitive” Preckwinkle is and the level of anger directed at Emanuel. A few people stated, “Just pick anybody but Rahm,” the pollster said.
“The problem is, he’s trying to make this an international city, and it’s a local city. That’s why they like Daley more,” McKeon said.
“All Daley ever talked about was neighborhoods. He’d drive around the city with his notepad. That’s who he was and what the city has been. Rahm’s agenda is just not selling right now. He’d better prioritize what the people want — not what he thinks they want.”
McKeon noted that the 2011 mayoral election featured the “lowest black turnout they’ve had in forever” in Chicago. The stage is set for just the opposite in 2015, the poll shows.
“The African-American community is galvanized on schools and crime,” McKeon said.
Preckwinkle is running unopposed in November for re-election as county board president. To run for mayor, she would need to get re-elected and turn right around and declare her candidacy against Emanuel. That’s precisely what then-State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley did in 1988.
Preckwinkle’s first-quarter fundraising makes that scenario unlikely. She has $696,812 with cash on hand after raising $169,455 and spending $376,367. Emanuel has $7.4 million in cash on hand after raking in another $1.4 million during the first three months of this year.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times in March, Emanuel said Preckwinkle had assured him privately that she has no intention of running for mayor.
Emanuel said he took Preckwinkle at her word, even though she’s been the most outspoken critic of the mayor’s school closings, charter openings, school budget cuts and the seven-day teachers strike that Emanuel’s bullying missteps helped to instigate.
“She has said that and I believe she’s a person of her word … I believe she’s not running. I also believe more importantly what she has said why she ran for county board president was the criminal justice system and health care, and that her work is not done,” Emanuel said in March.
Preckwinkle’s camp responded to the mayor’s comments by sending conflicting signals about her political future. About a week later, Preckwinkle pointedly refused to rule out a race for mayor.
Last month, Fioretti accused Emanuel of presiding over the “widening of Chicago into two cities” and hinted strongly at a race for mayor with Lewis cheering him on from the City Club audience.
Lewis stood toe-to-toe with Emanuel and emerged from the 2012 teachers strike as a folk hero who got the best of the mayor.
Lewis has made no secret of her desire to defeat Emanuel, whom she derisively calls the “murder mayor.” But, she has insisted that she has no intention of running for mayor herself.
Most recently, Lewis has said she has no plan to exercise her right to extend the teachers contract for one more year. Instead, the CTU plans to hold Emanuel’s feet to the fire during the mayoral campaign and use the threat of another teachers strike as the ultimate weapon.
Based on the poll, McKeon gives Emanuel a 50-50 chance to win re-election. He does not believe the mayor’s millions will make the difference.
“If they push Preckwinkle out and put Bob Shaw in, there isn’t going to be a race,” McKeon said.
“But if there’s a solid candidate who talks to the neighborhoods instead of the bigger picture stuff, it’s gonna be a problem. The problem Rahm has is not defining himself, it’s re-defining himself. They know what he is right now and apparently don’t like him that much.”