Fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was hailed as a modern-day General Douglas MacArthur for his frontline leadership during the 2012 NATO Summit.
Dressed in his white uniform shirt and tie, pants and hat — and no helmet or body armor — McCarthy stood on the front lines, calling the shots like a football coach signaling plays from the sidelines.
Now, the 58-year-old McCarthy is taking that same New York bravado to a different arena: the 2019 race for mayor against embattled incumbent Rahm Emanuel, the boss who fired him.
McCarthy’s first hurdle, assuming he can gather the 12,500 signatures needed to get on the ballot, is to raise enough money to at least break through on airwaves certain to be dominated by commercials bankrolled by Emanuel’s fundraising juggernaut.
Victor Reyes is the former Daley political operative who ran the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization at the center of the city hiring scandal.
Reyes said McCarthy has a “very narrow” path to victory — if he has one at all — because his role as superintendent during the police shooting of Laquan McDonald makes him anathema to many African-American voters.
“He may be thinking that having a coalition of whites and Latinos could do it for him. He may think it’ll be the police and fire departments. But there’s just not enough of them,” said Reyes, who is not involved with any potential mayoral candidates.
Reyes noted that former Mayor Richard M. Daley started out with just 7 percent of the black vote in 1989, but overcame it by winning 80 percent among whites and Latinos. That changed over the years as Daley won a greater and greater percentage of the black vote over six mayoral elections.
Reyes can’t fathom McCarthy building a similar winning coalition.
“He would have to win the white vote, come in first or second with Latinos, and second or third with African-Americans. That’s really hard to do. If the election were held today, he’d be in the single-digits in the black community,” Reyes said.
“He does have an authenticity about him. But he’s authentic about policies people may not agree with him on. His only hope is to convince everyone he had nothing to do with the Laquan situation and that he’s more progressive on policing issues.”
McCarthy is trying desperately to do just that.
He’s claiming he was the victim of a “witch hunt” engineered by top mayoral aides to mask the fact that the “entirety of that cover-up” of the McDonald shooting video “occurred at City Hall.”
He’s maintaining that he did the only thing the law allowed him to do: put now-indicted Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke, who fired the 16 shots that killed McDonald, on desk duty.
But Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, says that argument simply won’t fly with black voters.
“I understand you can’t just fire the guy. But I don’t understand why you wouldn’t say, `One of [my] subordinates did something so horrible, I can’t contain it. I just can’t sit on this,’ ” Sawyer said.
“His silence makes him complicit in what went on with that. It was just a continuation of what he doesn’t get: that when civilians see things like this happen and no one talks about it, that’s just as horrible as doing it, almost.”
African-American political strategist Delmarie Cobb said she thought McCarthy was “delusional” when she heard him say he could “easily win” over black voters.
“He can come up with all of the technical reasons why it was the [Fraternal Order of Police], the rules and the mayor. But he was the superintendent, and Laquan McDonald wasn’t the first time,” Cobb said.
“Rahm Emanuel can’t walk away from what he knew about Laquan McDonald,” she added. “Garry McCarthy can’t either.”
Even if McCarthy could somehow rehabilitate himself with black voters — to the point where they would give him a listen — he faces other hurdles.
His short fuse and thin skin raise questions about his temperament and his ability to survive the scrutiny of a grueling mayoral campaign.
There’s also the one-trick pony issue. McCarthy is a career cop who has helped run police departments in three major cities, two of which came under federal investigation.
He has never held elected office and never shown that he has the financial acumen to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis.
During the 2015 runoff campaign, the Friday news conference at which then-mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia was unable to articulate his financial plan was the day he lost any hope of defeating an unpopular mayor who was eminently beatable.
Last week, McCarthy told the Sun-Times: “My plan, first of all, is to hire an expert to run the finances. I don’t have a degree in finance. I have degree in history. I’m really good at the criminology stuff, and I know that. But I need experts who are gonna help me with education and finance.”
McCarthy then got annoyed when pressed hard to outline his plan to close a massive pension funding shortfall that will come up shortly after the 2019 mayoral election.
“We’re going to develop some different funding sources. And we’re going to make sure that people stop fleeing the city. … We’re working on it. It hasn’t been completely shaken out,” he said.
“I’m answering your questions. You don’t like the answer. I’m sorry. … You keep going down the rabbit hole. I’m telling you where we are from the 10,000-foot level. We’ll come out with a financial plan as we move forward. And I’m not gonna tell you we’re gonna wait until after the election.”
No matter how detailed McCarthy’s financial plan is and how capable his advisers may be, he’s unlikely to come out ahead on that issue in a race against Emanuel and former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas.
What’s more likely is that McCarthy plays the role of spoiler and helps Vallas, who was wildly popular in the black community during his days as CPS, force Emanuel into Chicago’s second mayoral run-off.
Noting that Vallas and McCarthy already have met, Reyes said: “It could be a deal [between them] that whoever gets into the run-off supports the other” because of their mutual disdain for Emanuel.
Newly re-elected County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and newly reappointed Police Board President Lori Lightfoot are also considering entering a crowded mayoral field that could include tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin. Troy LaRaviere, head of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, and businessman Willie Wilson, who ran in 2015, have already declared their candidacies.