Chicago’s self-styled progressives say they’re purer Democrats than Mayor Rahm Emanuel and will spark a citywide movement to end his tenure next year.
If the results of Tuesday’s election were any indication, though, there’s little sign yet that a leftist, progressive wave is cresting in city politics — much less building into a movement that can swamp the unpopular but deep-pocketed mayor.
A coalition of labor and activist groups claimed it registered 80,000 new voters in Chicago this year. They failed badly in their first attempt to channel those voters, for Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s re-election bid.
Rather than bringing more people to the polls Tuesday, voter turnout was down sharply in the city’s wards compared to the 2010 election. According to the city’s election authorities, less than 622,000 votes were cast — a drop of about 70,000 in four years. Quinn received more than 40,000 votes fewer in Chicago than four years ago.
The campaign that boasted of registering so many new voters was called Every Vote Counts and also signed up new voters in the Cook County suburbs. It involved staunch Emanuel foes such as the Chicago Teachers Union, the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Indiana and the Grassroots Collaborative activist group.
Late in the race for governor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle contributed $100,000 to Every Vote Counts. State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) gave $25,000 — and sounded Wednesday like he had buyer’s remorse.
“It may be just as challenging to get people out to vote in February,” said Raoul, who added that he’s currently leaning toward staying neutral in the mayor’s race.
Nathan Ryan, a spokesman for the Grassroots Collaborative, declined to comment, saying “more analysis” of the election data was necessary to determine how effective Every Vote Counts had been on Tuesday.
The teachers’ union was undeterred, said Jesse Sharkey, the union vice president.
“There certainly was not a big turnout, but that’s not necessarily a sign of where things are headed,” he said. “The enthusiasm from [union] members for punishing this mayor will be at a whole other level than what we saw in the city yesterday.”
Greg Goldner, who managed Emanuel’s 2002 congressional campaign, said the progressives don’t deserve blame for Quinn’s demise and it’s too early for incumbents, including Emanuel, to shrug off the potential threat.
“It’s a completely different dynamic” in the city election, Goldner says.
The progressives are on the attack rather than having to defend a weak incumbent. But a movement needs more than a foil. It also needs a leader.
Karen Lewis, the CTU president, was poised to play that role before she was found to have brain cancer. Lewis has given her blessing to Democratic Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Garcia said the poor turnout Tuesday did not concern him.
“Yesterday and the election for mayor will be quite different,” Garcia said Wednesday. “Now we have a Republican in the governor’s mansion. Do we really need a Republican in City Hall?”