He could do it.
If Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia prevails in the April 7 mayoral election, it will trigger a political earthquake. Chicago is ready. The city sits at an extraordinary crossroad.
The conventional wisdom-ites have been tossed on their heads. Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled into the Feb. 24 election with climbing poll numbers, a $10 million campaign war chest, beaucoup endorsements, a hug from the president of the United States, and an incumbent’s dream, low turnout.
Emanuel stumbled out with a runoff. Now, the conventional wisdom chuckleheads are bleating, “it’s Rahm’s to lose.”
Hardly. There is scarce enthusiasm among Emanuel voters. His commercials parrot the line that he has made the “tough decisions.” Tough on us.
Chuy has the “mo.” He outperformed in the first round. Even his campaign handlers didn’t expect him to pull 34 percent. Voters heard his appeal for six more weeks.
Meanwhile, Rahm is as hard-headed as ever. He boasts an impressive list of accomplishments, but his style and policies chafe. He says he can’t change.
He’d better. Chicago voters, especially the working class and people of color, hunger for change. That’s why they delivered the first-ever mayoral runoff in Chicago, and 19 aldermanic runoffs.
African Americans were insulted when Emanuel patted the heads of black children with one hand, then shut down 49 schools with the other. He tried to pacify us by changing a street name here and engineering a national park designation there. He trotted in a black president who has disappointed his base. Barack Obama doesn’t live here anymore.
Emanuel may have worked for a black man, but he doesn’t know much about black folks.
Garcia does. Back in the day, when he was a go-to ally of Mayor Harold Washington, he learned to build trust and bridges. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle made Garcia her floor leader.
“Chuy does in fact have support among a portion of the old guard in the black community — those who were involved in the Harold Washington mobilization effort,” argued Valerie C. Johnson, chair of the Political Science Department at DePaul University, in a post-election email.
But Garcia must convince voters that he has built concrete and lasting alliances with African-American activists and toiled on the grass-roots concerns they share: education, crime and jobs. His campaign must detail and propose new, hard-headed, neighborhood-centric solutions. A resource plan to boost neighborhood schools. A strategy on his promised 1,000 cops, and insurance that African Americans get their fair share.
About those black/Latino tensions. Like Harold Washington, Garcia must make the case that if blacks and Latinos get together, they call their own shots, instead of waiting for the handouts from City Hall.
Garcia must shuck his low-key, humble ways, and pound at the 99-vs.-the-1 percent mantra, that he will work for the grass roots, the working class, and the left-behinds.
Some question whether Garcia has the connections to work with the business community. He doesn’t, and that will reassure voters that he won’t sell them out. The day after he is elected, the big shots will be lining up on the 5th floor. Take a number, guys.
Meanwhile, Toni Preckwinkle is watching. If she endorses Garcia, it’s all over for Emanuel. It may be already.