‘You want Harold?” the voice boomed from the podium back in 1983. “You got Harold!”
Harold Washington became Chicago’s first African-American mayor. But his entry into that seminal election was a slow dance. What Washington, a just-re-elected Congressman in a safe seat, demanded before he’d toss his hat in the ring, was a big bump in voter registration.
He needed a movement.
The race for Chicago City Hall is just one year away, and whether this will be Rahm Emanuel’s first and only term or the start of a succession is rooted in the Harold Washington story.
One year out, Emanuel’s biggest liability is money. Not the millions he’s stockpiled in campaign cash.
It’s the money he needs to run the city to pay public workers. And a balloon payment of $600 million due next year for police and fire pensions. And the dollars and dimes to fill potholes, fund schools, and collect garbage.
Chicago is on a fiscal cliff. And that makes Emanuel vulnerable.
But to whom?
One person actively considering running is 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti. In a telephone interview, he spoke of frustration with the Emanuel administration on the city’s South and West sides. “There is,” he said, “a lack of respect for neighborhoods and lack of leadership.”
His ward was cut to shreds in the latest remap as punishment for his outspoken independence. The ward he’s served since 2007 has been sliced and diced by the Machine map boys into pieces of seven other wards (3, 4, 11, 25, 27, 42) to doom his re-election prospects.
So what’s he got to lose?
Maybe a mayoral election.
Those who watch closely and read the tea leaves daily argue it is Toni Preckwinkle or nothing.
The Cook County Board president insists she is running only for re-election in November. But that victory is assured.
Could she do a quick turnaround — without voter backlash — and run in the February mayoral race?
Harold Washington did.
And given that Emanuel has alienated the black community with neighborhood school closings but more charter openings — and infuriated cops and firefighters waiting for contracts and bracing for cuts — Preckwinkle has a voter base that Emanuel lacks. “What trumps money?” Sun-Times veteran City Hall reporter Fran Spielman asks rhetorically. “A movement does.”
Spielman argues Preckwinkle is the mayor’s “worst nightmare.”
Emanuel knows that. Maybe that’s why he dashed out of a recent, rare joint press conference with Preckwinkle.
The mayor, a message-control freak, darted out a side door when it was time for questions. Preckwinkle did what the mayor hates to do. She stayed and took questions on any subject, without attempting to impose Emanuel-like restrictions on topics that the mayor’s press people desperately try to enforce. Then Preckwinkle shook hands as she left.
Is that a sign of something?
Too soon to know.
But remember that Jane Byrne, beset by the same inherited fiscal problems Emanuel is stuck with, one day found herself to be a one-term mayor.
It happened when a movement knocked on her door.