Chicagoans have Emanuel's full attention, thanks to Garcia


Mayor Rahm Emanuel greets supporters on Election Night. | Getty Images

Rahm Emanuel says he heard you. He says he can do better.

And now he gets a chance, a “second chance” as he put it Tuesday night, to prove it to the Chicago voters who returned him to the mayor’s office.

If nothing else, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia can take some credit for that much.

He helped Chicagoans get their mayor’s attention, made him put on that sweater, swallow hard and “own” his mistakes, not that we ever heard what those mistakes were, specifically.

One thing seems certain: Emanuel won’t take for granted the politics of his decisions quite the way he did in his first term, getting so far out of sync with those who pay his salary.

“I will be a better mayor because of that,” Emanuel said in his thank you to voters for “putting me through my paces.”

How that will translate into Emanuel’s actual policies I’m not quite sure, but I certainly expect him at the very least to put much greater effort into selling them.

Voters definitely threw quite a scare into their cocky mayor over the last six weeks. You could tell by the way he left nothing to chance with the scorched earth campaign he waged from beginning to end. But in the end, the voters’ bark was worse than their bite.

Faced with a choice between the devil they knew and the devil who had been manufactured for their benefit by Emanuel’s campaign commercials, they reached for a second helping.

I understand their choice. The city is in a precarious financial position, and Emanuel has demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenge.

What I’ll never understand is more than half the city’s electorate sitting on the sidelines of a historic first runoff mayoral election and skipping their chance to have a say in Chicago’s future.

Garcia waited too long to let Chicago voters know who he is, and by the time he did, too many had already been convinced by the Emanuel campaign that he was a fiscally dangerous choice to be their mayor.

He committed belatedly to the tale of two cities campaign theme that had worked for progressive candidates outside Chicago, even though I assume he actually believed in it.

But in reaching the runoff when nobody of greater stature dared challenge Emanuel, Garcia’s candidacy will no doubt embolden other mayoral challengers in future Chicago elections. Nobody’s going to want to miss their chance next time.

While the election results showed that Chicago’s Latino community is still not quite ready to elect one of its own, the young voters Garcia attracted to his campaign could change the equation in the not-so-distant future.

After casting Garcia as the candidate with a surprise property tax increase up his sleeve, Emanuel has complicated his own options for fixing the city’s financial problems, as many of us believe he will have no choice but to raise property taxes and soon.

Although he never explicitly promised it, the mayor must realize his commercials led many voters to believe he won’t touch their property taxes, let alone revive the largest property tax increase in Chicago history that he proposed just last year.

Will the new Rahm Emanuel care about that?

More likely he’ll do what he thinks he has to do, just as the old Rahm Emanuel did, which is what his real supporters liked best about him all along.

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