When Rahm Emanuel found himself in a runoff, he did something that none of his predecessors ever did.
Not Michael A. Bilandic when he left the black community buried under a snowstorm.
Not Jane Byrne, who thought she could change her tune after convincing black voters she wasn’t like the good ole’ boys.
And not even Mayor Richard M. Daley when his administration was snared in a hired truck scandal.
Emanuel owned up to his shortcomings and apologized.
Humility goes a long way.
A week before the runoff, the Chicago Defender and WVON-AM (1690) released a mayoral poll that showed 46 percent of African-American voters would select Emanuel.
That result was surprising when you consider the tenacity of Emanuel’s critics. On South Stony Island, the thoroughfare Emanuel once proposed naming for the late Bishop Arthur Brazier, “Fire Rahm” signs dotted the curbs.
Both candidates were desperate to win the black vote, and that made for some strange political bedfellows.
Although Conrad Worrill, the executive director of the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, did not publicly endorse Emanuel, the fact that he didn’t publicly endorse Garcia was telling.
Garcia evoked the late Mayor Harold Washington’s name throughout his campaign, and Worrill was one of the leading architects of Washington’s historic election.
“The division started after Harold’s death when forces attempted to create the environment that got us in the dogfight with the Tim Evans and Gene Sawyer” controversy, Worrill said.
Sawyer, who served as the city’s 53rd mayor, was embroiled in a bitter fight with Evans’ supporters over who was the rightful heir to Washington’s political legacy.
“That battle knocked out the cooperative spirit of black leaders in this city because it was delicate and Harold was the glue,” Worrill said.
Despite stomping under the banner of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Garcia was unable to bring black leadership together around his campaign.
While U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., came out for Emanuel, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis tossed his hat in Garcia’s ring.
African-American clergy also were split.
Emanuel got the support of the Rev. James Meeks, a politically savvy Independent who snubbed the Democratic Party in the gubernatorial election by endorsing Bruce Rauner, the Republican.
But another Rauner supporter, the Rev. Marshall Hatch, went with Garcia.
This election affirmed that the path to City Hall still runs through the South and West Sides, but it also exposed a vacuum in black leadership.
Despite being anointed by the powerful Chicago Teachers Union and having the backing of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Garcia couldn’t inspire enough African-American voters.
“I think Chuy has won even if he loses because hope has been reborn,” Jackson said earlier in the evening.
“I think Rahm is a loser even if he wins. He has been ruling rather than governing, and that won’t work anymore.”
But in the end, as in all elections, it came down to who voters believed.
“Although Garcia got traction out of addressing the shortcomings of Rahm Emanuel and the 1 percent question, it is much deeper than that,” Worrill said.
“The issues in the black community are broader than school closings and red-light cameras. Garcia never said anything that amounted to what he would do for black people or a black agenda,” Worrill said.