A poll from over the weekend says more than 18 percent of Chicago voters are undecided about whether to choose Rahm Emanuel or Jesus “Chuy” Garcia for mayor with one week left in the campaign.
I have to admit that if I had a vote, I’d be one of them.
As it stands, I’m one of those suburban residents who some of you don’t like sticking their nose in Chicago’s business, although that wouldn’t stop me if I had a strong opinion.
Instead, I have many strong opinions, some of them conflicting, the combined effect making me happy I don’t have a vote.
I am told by the editorial boards of both major newspapers — and some of my friends — that this should be a no-brainer.
There is only one real choice for mayor, they say, only one candidate who has what it takes to run the city at this point in history to keep it from falling into the abyss.
To which I say: Baloney.
There are two viable candidates here. Each brings very different strengths to the table.
I agree that Rahm has shown himself to be the better candidate on the city’s finances, which is the most important issue with me, because the abyss is real. He has pointed the ship in the right direction, but until the Illinois Supreme Court weighs in on pensions, he’s not going to make up any ground.
That said, I don’t believe Chuy is the empty suit he’s been made out to be either, and his vagueness on financial matters, while driving me to distraction, doesn’t strike me as a sign of someone in any hurry to drive the city off the cliff.
And I reject the notion that the person who has toiled faithfully in the background is unqualified to reach for the brass ring, or that the person with the shiniest resume is always the best choice — or most galling of all, that Chicago voters must defer to the opinion of Wall Street bankers.
Still, I had been looking for Chuy to show more growth than he has over the course of the campaign as an indication he is ready for the financial challenge in particular.
For those worried that Chicago is going to become the next Detroit — giving you the benefit of the doubt for a moment that you are referring to finances instead of racial makeup and not conflating the two — let me point out that bond rating agencies say they are confident we won’t follow in Detroit’s bankrupt footsteps any time soon because we have the capacity to raise taxes here if necessary to meet our obligations, not because we might.
There’s a lot more that goes into being a good mayor than balancing the budget, and it seems to me Chuy has shown himself to have a better feel for what’s important to Chicagoans on many of the other issues facing the city.
Emanuel also has a wider reach than many realize, showing he can get things done on variety of fronts. On affordable housing, a topic of particular interest to me, he has taken some important steps, albeit belatedly.
The mayor’s decisiveness — that willingness to make bold decisions and then bring the public along, or not — may endear him to the corporate CEOs. But it has also been his weakness.
Like many Chicago voters, I like the idea of a mayor who might actually listen first and act later.
I’ve known the two candidates since they were young men and watched their political careers develop — Rahm as the power politician, Chuy as the neighborhood politician.
It’s too bad we can’t combine their best qualities in one man.