Brown: Rahm gets low-key treatment in 31st Ward early voting

SHARE Brown: Rahm gets low-key treatment in 31st Ward early voting

Ald. Ray Suarez, left, and his challenger in the 31st ward, Milly Santiago | file photos

Hiram De Hoyos and Pedro Villalobos braced against the chilly wind Wednesday outside an early voting polling place on Belmont Avenue, waiting for stray voters to blow past.

When they did, De Hoyos offered them a palm card for his candidate, veteran 31st Ward Ald. Ray Suarez.

Villalobos then handed them campaign pieces featuring both mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and former Telemundo reporter Milly Santiago, Suarez’ opponent in the April 7 runoff.

Down at the other end of the sidewalk, Francisco Caraballo and Lucia Teran played the same roles.

Noticeably missing from this equation was anybody working on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Unlike the other three, Emanuel had no physical presence whatsoever outside the 31st Ward polling place at the Portage-Cragin Branch Library on Belmont Avenue.

No campaign literature. No buttons. No signs.

“Suarez supports Rahm,” De Hoyos told me, which obviously I already knew.

“Then why aren’t you handing out anything for Rahm?” I asked, although I assumed I knew the answer to that, too.

De Hoyos shrugged and grinned, such matters being beyond the pay grade of a political street soldier.

So let me hazard an explanation.

Suarez, political partner of Cook County Democratic chairman and assessor Joseph Berrios, is in a ticklish position.

He’s a Rahm supporter, all right, a mayoral administration loyalist during all of his 24 years on the City Council under both Rich Daley and Emanuel.

But, in the Feb. 24 election, Garcia received 51 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Emanuel in the Latino-dominated 31st. And that puts Suarez in jeopardy of finding himself on the wrong side of history in his own community.

If Garcia’s candidacy gains momentum with Hispanics, and some say it already has, Suarez runs the risk of being swept aside, despite a commanding 48-37 advantage over Santiago in the first round balloting.

For now, at least, it’s better for Suarez and Berrios not to call attention to their alliance with Emanuel, who has never put too much stock in campaign signs and such anyway. Meanwhile, Garcia and Santiago are running as a team, a strategy Garcia is employing in several other wards where incumbent aldermen are loyal to Emanuel.

It’s not as if those who showed up at the library Wednesday for early voting were waiting for somebody to hand them a piece of campaign literature to help them make up their minds about who to support for mayor.

Many voters just waved off De Hoyos and Villalobos when they offered their wares. And those who voted made clear their real interest in coming out was “Rahm” and “Chuy,” not the aldermanic race.

A young Mexican guy didn’t want to talk at first but then told me he voted for Garcia.

“Rahm’s bad news,” he said.

Betsy Mercato, 28, was less reticent.

“Me and my husband are both union, so we’re going with Chuy,” she said.

The two Puerto Rican women I stopped next were for Rahm.

“I think Chuy is just giving too many promises,” one said as the other nodded.

I asked a big Irish guy who used to be a real estate developer who he liked in the mayor’s race.

“I voted for the better candidate–Rahm,” he said, indicating that didn’t mean he liked either candidate.

Office worker Beatrice Caballero, 29,  thought it would be self-evident who she supported when she told me: “I’m going to align myself with somebody who reflects who I am.”

When I told her I had already spoken to other Latino women who voted for Rahm, she was surprised.

Caballero said everyone she knew was excited about voting for Chuy, including her Mexican-born mother, Felisa, who she brought to the polls.

“Maybe it’s the circle I run in,” Caballero said. “I hope he wins, and even if he doesn’t, it’s definitely a glimmer of hope.”

Amelia Vega and Ida Mojica run in a different circle. The two Puerto Rican friends said they were there to vote against Chuy.

“Too many empty promises,” Mojica said, proving Rahm’s campaign commercials more powerful than any precinct captain’s palm card.

The 397 ballots cast so far by 31st Ward voters during the runoff early voting period are the 10th fewest in the city.

Of the nine wards with fewer early voters, eight are in Hispanic-majority wards, which wouldn’t seem to bode well for Garcia.

If there’s a Garcia movement in the making, now would be the time for it to show itself.

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