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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia both were aggressive Thursday in the second televised debate of the runoff election.

Among Chuy and Rahm’s true believers

SHARE Among Chuy and Rahm’s true believers
SHARE Among Chuy and Rahm’s true believers

Heather Booth is home again.

I found her Thursday afternoon amid the maps, volunteers and staffers of Chuy Garcia’s insurgency campaign against Rahm Emanuel.

OPINION

Booth, 69, is an icon of Chicago and national progressive politics. She came back to town recently after moving years ago to Washington D.C. For decades, she has been in the boiler rooms of political rebellions and social justice movements, including Saul Alinsky’s neighborhood organizing effort, Harold Washington’s 1983 run for mayor and the fight for immigration reform.

Why Garcia?

“He won my heart. He is deep into grassroots connections,” she told me.

The room is littered with paid staffers and volunteers hunched over laptops or talking on cellphones. There are “Chuy” muffins at the front desk delivered daily by a supporter. Starbucks cups and other carryout detritus are scattered on the tables and desktops.

It is a classic campaign headquarters.

In Garcia’s case, it’s a shuttered restaurant on the corner of Washington and Des Plaines. Staff meetings are held in the kitchen.

Not far away, in the Loop under the L tracks on Wabash and Monroe, is the Emanuel headquarters. Up on the 14th floor in an old office building, it’s a rabbit warren of small rooms where schedulers, communication staffers and volunteers sit tapping on laptops or dialing on mobile devices.

It is, like Garcia’s set-up, a barebones, utilitarian encampment, not meant to be permanent. Just there just long enough to get the job done.

In the tiny kitchen, over by the sink, is a stern picture of the mayor with the words, “Your dishes are your responsibility. Wash them.”

It’s funny. But not kidding, if you know what I mean.

Campaign manager Michael Ruemmler is half the age of Heather Booth. But at 34, equally committed. He was 3 when his father made him pay attention to the U.S. Senate run of Paul Simon, one of whose staffers, ironically, was the same Rahm Emanuel for whom he now works.

Campaigns take a lot of energy.

“I saw an old friend,” he told me by phone Friday, “who said, ‘Man, you’ve aged.'” Ruemmler laughed and added, “It’s like dog years.”

His resume includes stints helping elect Mike Frerichs (now Illinois treasurer) to the state senate. And working advance in ’07 for the first presidential bid of Barack Obama and later, at the White House.

Is this a believer universe?

“Absolutely,” said Ruemmler. “With an incumbent campaign, you expect a different feel, but there are still a lot of wide-eyed, young and old, change-the-world people.”

Big donors and big unions might argue they are believers too. And let’s not kid ourselves, they will have a lot to do with which guy — Garcia or Emanuel — wins this race.

But not everything.

I, for one, have my money elsewhere.

On the power of voters, energized by this first-of-its-kind mayoral runoff, to put their two cents in about the leadership and direction of this city.

Those believers.

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