Mayor Rahm Emanuel won his fight for political survival Tuesday and vowed to be a “better mayor” in a second term because of the scare he got from Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
With 98.5 percent of the vote counted, Emanuel had 55.7 percent to Garcia’s 44.3 percent. The turnout was roughly 40 percent, up from 34 percent on Feb. 24. That was not high enough and nowhere near the outpouring that Garcia needed to unseat the deep-pockets incumbent.
“Thank you Chicago,” Emanuel told a crowd that included elected officials, city department heads and V.I.P.s.
“To the second city that voted for a second term and a second chance. . . . I have had the good fortune to serve two presidents. I’ve had the fortune of being elected to Congress. Being mayor of the city of Chicago is the greatest job I’ve ever had and the greatest job in the world. I am humbled by the opportunity to continue to serve you — the greatest city with the greatest people — for the next four years.”
Emanuel’s victory was apparent early in the evening.
By 8:20 p.m. — less than 90 minutes after the polls closed — Garcia spokeswoman Sylvia Ewing announced on stage at the UIC Forum that Garcia had just called Emanuel to concede the election.
“I just spoke with Mayor Emanuel to congratulate him, and I wish him and his family well. This was a hard-fought race, but it’s over now,” Garcia said, shortly after 9 p.m. as his supporters shouted, “No.”
Addressing the next generation, Garcia said, “We didn’t lose today. We tried today. We fought hard for what we believed in. You don’t succeed at this or anything else unless you try.”
Mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia saluted CTU President Karen Lewis while he conceded to Mayor Rahm Emanuel at an election night rally at the UIC Forum on Tuesday night. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media
Garcia’s remarks to supporters had the energy and passion of a victory speech. Practically shouting at times and spitting with excitement, Garcia rallied the crowd at the UIC Forum, telling them that “tens of thousands” of hard-working Chicagoans of all colors, all parts of the city and all walks of life came together Tuesday to send a message to Emanuel.
“You want to be heard. You want a government that works for you. You want a city that works for everyone — and I mean everyone — not just for downtown or the neighborhoods, but for both,” Garcia said to thunderous applause.
“There are too many shootings on our streets, too much violence in our neighborhoods. To keep people in our city, to attract new people, we need to end the violence. And I mean end it. . . . We may have fallen short today but we will make sure these people’s voices are heard. We will not stop fighting for the people, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
When Garcia descended the stage, he was mobbed by dozens of supporters, carrying signs and asking for his autograph. Security repeatedly asked the crowd to move so he could move to the exit.
When someone remarked what it would have been like if Garcia had won, a Garcia aide said: “He did win tonight.”
At Emanuel’s Plumbers Hall headquarters, a band played on before a crowd, many dressed in “Rahm Love” T-shirts, that chanted, “Four more years.”
Speaking minutes after Garcia’s concession speech, a humbled Emanuel thanked Chicago voters for “putting me through my paces. . . . I will be a better mayor because of that. . . . Chicago, I hear you. . . . We are the city that works and it has to work for everyone.”
Emanuel ended up with fewer votes, but a slightly higher percentage of the vote when he captured 55.3 percent and 326,331 votes in 2011.
Emanuel’s formula for victory in Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff was a vastly improved ground game to get his targeted voters to the polls and a pre-election push to get his supporters to vote early or by mail before they left town for spring break.
The strategy was executed to a T. Emanuel captured 36 of Chicago’s 50 wards, one fewer than he won on Feb. 24. But he boosted his victory margin to an impressive 84.4 percent in the downtown’s 42nd Ward, 83.6 percent in the 43rd Ward, 75.2 percent in the 44th Ward and 77.4 percent in the 2nd Ward.
The mayor also boosted his share of the vote to 65.3 percent in the 3rd Ward, 63 percent in the 27th Ward and to the mid-to-high 50s in most other majority African-American wards.
And Emanuel managed to overcome opposition from the son of political powerbroker Jeremiah Joyce to win 59 percent of the vote in the Southwest Side’s vote-rich 19th Ward and 63.6 percent in the Northwest Side’s 41st Ward.
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Garcia booked the UIC Forum in anticipation that his supporters would be celebrating a stunning political upset. Instead, a sullen cloud hung over the party as a rap performer named “Sense” bounced on stage with a large poster of Garcia looking on. A giant mustache projected on the wall like some kind of bat symbol as an oversized drop-down screen showed slides of Garcia campaigning.
Onlookers remained seated, many staring at phones looking at returns that spelled defeat for Garcia.
Moveon.org, which helped bankroll Garcia’s campaign, responded to Emanuel’s victory with a thinly veiled warning.
“Rahm Emanuel went into this election with every advantage — incumbency, support from the Chicago political establishment and funding from millionaires and billionaires. The fact that he was forced into an unprecedented runoff demonstrates the growing power of the progressive coalition and Chicagoans’ broad opposition to the policies of his first term,” the statement said.
“We hope that Mayor Emanuel is sincere when he says he’ll listen more to Chicago’s communities in his second term. The progressive coalition that rallied behind Chuy García is not going away, and we will continue to hold Mayor Emanuel accountable in his second term.”
Emanuel won the second term he was denied on Feb. 24, only after raising an astounding $20.5 million for his re-election campaign to just under $6 million for Garcia.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrates a victorious election night . | AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
That allowed the mayor to dominate the airwaves with commercials that defined Garcia before the challenger had a chance to define himself.
The Emanuel blitzkrieg portrayed Garcia as a captive of the Chicago Teachers Union that bankrolled his campaign and as inexperienced, indecisive and incapable of leading Chicago away from the financial cliff.
Garcia played into the mayor’s hands by promising to hire 1,000 additional police officers and eliminate red-light cameras without saying where he would find the $170 million to pay for those promises.
The challenger also made himself a target by punting the desperate need for new revenues to solve the combined, $30 billion pension crisis at the city and schools to a post-election commission that would report back in 90 days — after the Illinois General Assembly had already adjourned its spring session.
That allowed the mayor to portray himself as the only candidate with a plan to solve the financial crisis. Never mind that Emanuel’s own plan is heavily reliant on a General Assembly that has not exactly ridden to the rescue of Chicago and on a rookie Republican governor whose doomsday budget cuts would make Chicago’s problems infinitely worse.
Round One of the mayoral sweepstakes was a referendum on Emanuel’s pay-to-play politics, his dictatorial, top-down management style and on the school closings, charter openings and persistent crime that alienated African-American voters who helped put the mayor in office four years ago.
Disgruntled Chicago voters — even some who considered Emanuel the most qualified — seemed determined to extend the debate, take Emanuel down a peg or two and make him sweat to earn a second term.
The political dynamic changed dramatically in Round Two.
Emanuel succeeded in making it as much a referendum on Garcia’s preparedness and stewardship of a non-profit group he started and left with a six-figure deficit as it was on the mayor’s own record and abrasive personal style.
The field was leveled somewhat by the $4.5 million that poured into Garcia’s campaign after he managed to force Emanuel into Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff.
Garcia’s political windfall included contributions from national unions and liberal Democrats determined to settle old scores with Emanuel from his take-no-prisoners days as White House chief of staff and as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee before that.
But Emanuel managed to raise another $5.4 million for the runoff and had enough cash left over from Round One to get on the air immediately while Garcia was still crisscrossing the country raising money.
Shortly after falling short with just 45.6 percent of the vote on Feb. 24, Emanuel hit the air with an extraordinary mea culpa for a man who seldom, if ever, publicly admits mistakes.
Dressed in a V-neck sweater and an open-collar shirt, Emanuel looked straight into the camera and acknowledged that his “greatest strengths” are also his “greatest weakness.” He admitted he can “rub people the wrong way” and often “talk when I should listen.”
The mayor would close the Round Two campaign in similarly vulnerable fashion.
“Chicago is a great city, but we can be even better. And yeah, I hear you – so can I,” Emanuel said.
The decision by SEIU Local 1 to drop its neutrality and endorse Garcia could have been a game-changer.
It translated into hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions, thousands of field workers and commercials trashing Emanuel as an evil dictator who has presided over two Chicagos: a glistening downtown and a neighborhood underbelly.
But while Garcia had an impressive array of black supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who finished third on Feb. 24, the challenger never managed to nail down the most pivotal endorsement.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the mayoral challenger City Hall feared most, stayed on the sidelines, as she did in Round One. That’s even though Garcia is a county commissioner who serves as Preckwinkle’s floor leader.
And in spite of his history as a loyal supporter of the late Mayor Harold Washington, Garcia could not resurrect the black-Hispanic coalition that culminated in Washington’s election as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.
The three televised debates between Emanuel and Garcia could have been pivotal, but they were pretty much fought to a draw.
Emanuel came out on top in the first debate by portraying himself as a man with a plan to solve Chicago’s financial crisis and Garcia as a politician who had made promises he couldn’t keep.
Garcia won the second debate by putting Emanuel on his heels for presiding over a government by fiat and press release that is “out of touch” with the priorities of everyday Chicagoans. He even laughed in the mayor’s face and told Emanuel he was mayor of Chicago — not “king.”
Emanuel came back strong in the third debate. But that final confrontation was dominated by a moderator’s tasteless questioning about Garcia’s son, a former gang member.
His formula for a runoff victory was to capture roughly 60 percent of the white vote, in the low-to-mid 50s among African-Americans and hold on to at least one-third of the Hispanic vote and hope that Hispanics do not make up more than 20 percent of the overall vote.
The mayor hoped to hit the mark by boosting disappointing turnout in affluent wards such as the 42nd and 43rd, where he racked up more than 70 percent of the vote.
He also hoped to win a healthy chunk of the 33,911 votes won by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who endorsed Emanuel, amid speculation that it was part of political deal to retire Fioretti’s $200,000 campaign debt.
Emanuel’s campaign was so concerned about getting its voters to the polls it bought 2,500 ponchos to protect its rejuvenated army of precinct workers from the rain.
The mayor’s re-election campaign also had at least one vehicle assigned to every one of Chicago’s 50 wards to drive voters to the polls. A lackluster ground game preceding Round One was replaced by 5,000 volunteers working four-hour shifts.
They include “a ton of labor” supplied by trade unions and the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, a “large paid program” and ward organizations no longer preoccupied with aldermanic elections that have been “commandeered” by the Emanuel campaign. They engaged in hand-to-hand, house-to-house combat with Garcia’s dedicated army of 5,000 soldiers, including SEIU members and teachers on spring break.