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Rahm needs a healthy jolt to his system

Mayor Rahm Emanuel responds to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. | Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media

Rahm Emanuel needs a runoff.

OPINION

It would be character-building if, in the Feb. 24 municipal election, he got less than the 50 percent plus one vote required to win outright. It would force him into a rematch with his nearest adversary on April 7.

Like one of those trendy cleanses sold at Whole Foods or those polar bear plunges into Lake Michigan, it could give a healthy jolt to his system.

I know MRE (Mayor Rahm Emanuel) doesn’t think so. And I’m sure all his mega-donors who have dumped $30 million into his campaign coffers won’t agree.

I don’t worry about them. I worry about us.

Rank-and-file Chicagoans barely know what democracy looks like after decades of one-party-one-ruler-rule. That’s why Thomas J. Gradel & Dick Simpson’s new book, “Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism and Criminality,” is a must-read.

In it, they write of the “aura of invincibility” that comes with winning elections. And while noting Emanuel has done some good things in behalf of transparency in government, the authors also examine his iron-fisted approach to the City Council not unlike two previous mayors named Daley.

“One thing that hasn’t changed, or changed only for the worst, is that Emanuel continues his mayoral control over the Chicago City Council, just like his machine-boss predecessors. In fact, he has more control than ever,” they write.

That’s why, in addition to his own massive campaign fund, there exists a pro-Emanuel superPAC, “Chicago Forward” to elect Emanuel-friendly alderman. And to crush any dissenters.

At the moment, MRE has four opponents: Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, Second Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, activist William “Dock” Walls, and businessman Willie Wilson.

It has been hard for any of them to gain traction given that the last elections were in November and that February is a miserable month when voters are not terribly keen to go to the polls.

But we must.

There are burning issues like, for instance, the city’s terrible financial straits. And whether any candidate is giving it to us straight about the need to raise taxes. Emanuel himself, at Friday’s Sun-Times Editorial Board, tried to confine his pledge of no new taxes to the operating budget only.

And then there are charter schools, which the mayor and his handpicked school board control even though those schools, while funded by CPS, have considerable independence.

Charter schools do not have to reveal their inner workings the way neighborhood public schools do.

And then there are those quasi-governmental bodies like the Infrastructure Trust, an alliance of government and business, that aren’t legally susceptible to certain kinds of public disclosure.

And non-profits like Navy Pier, which are technically separate, but in reality controlled by the mayor. Just ask Pier officials what salaries they are paying to whom and see what you get. They stonewall.

It’s outrageous.

MRE speaks rhapsodically about all the sunshine he has brought to government. But it’s only partly cloudy, at best.

That’s why this mayoral race needs to take a little longer

No election should be a slam-dunk.

Read the Simpson-Gradel book.

And root for a runoff.