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Analysis: Luis-Chuy move buoys Rahm — but for how long?

With Cook County Board Commissioner Jesús "Chuy" García (R) by his side, U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) announces he will retire from congress at the end of his current term during a press conference on November 28, 2017 in Chicago,. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was not around when the Luis-and-Chuy Show made its debut Tuesday. But, wherever he was, the mayor had to be smiling inside.

Time will tell whether Emanuel keeps on smiling right on through the 2019 mayoral election.

For the second time in ten weeks, the surprise retirement of a Democratic heavyweight has eliminated a potential mayoral challenger.

On Sept. 15, Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided not to seek re-election, but assured Emanuel she would not run for mayor in 2019, a position a top aide reaffirmed on Tuesday.

Now, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez is calling it quits and throwing his support to County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia as his successor. That removes from the mayoral field the candidate who managed to force Emanuel into Chicago’s first-ever mayoral run-off four years ago — even after getting a late start and being out-spent by a 4-to-1 margin.

“That’s a big plus for the mayor. Chuy had name recognition after the last campaign,” said Bill Daley, who succeeded Emanuel as White House chief-of-staff.

A Democratic strategist, who asked to remain anonymous, warned that Emanuel’s political gain may be short-lived.

“It could open the field for a credible, well-funded black candidate like Lori Lightfoot or Larry Rogers or someone like Bridget Gainer,” the Democratic strategist said.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (left) and Cook County commissioner Bridget Gainer. File Photo. | Michael R. Schmidt-For Sun-Times Media

“Garcia would have had the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU all locked up. Without him, it opens the door for others to step up who would not otherwise have run for fear of dividing the anti-Emanuel vote. Be careful what you wish for because you might eliminate one problem and create three others.”

Gainer said challenging Emanuel is “definitely something I’m thinking about.” But, she refused to say whether the race was more or less likely now that Garcia, her longtime ally on the County Board, is out of the picture.

“I haven’t made a decision, but certainly it’ll be something I think about because I respect him a ton,” she said.

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“It’s still a year off. A lot can happen between now and then. Some people will enter. Some people will leave.”

Lightfoot, the newly-reappointed Police Board president who has been an outspoken critic of Emanuel, could not be reached for comment.

Lori Lightfoot. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called Garcia’s exit from the mayoral field an interesting development that would not “change the equation” on whether he runs or doesn’t run.

“I’m not so much looking at the rest of the field. I’m looking at my positioning and whether or not it’s something that is likely to succeed,” McCarthy said Tuesday.

“I’m kind of competing against myself. Who runs matters. But, I’m trying to figure out if the electorate would be supportive of a person like me with my message. Once I figure that out, then I’ll figure out who the competition is.”

McCarthy pointed to polling done by his supporters that shows Emanuel’s “satisfaction rate in the 20’s and 30’s.”

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy speaks to the City Club of Chicago. File Photo. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

An Emanuel strategist said the mayor’s own polling shows he is finally “above water” — with a favorability rating above 50 percent — after a frenzied attempt to court Hispanics and rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after the court-ordered release of video showing a Chicago Police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald.

An aldermen who has been somewhat critical of Emanuel argued that the mayor has no clearly identifiable political base after struggling to control violent crime and pushing through an avalanche of tax increases to solve the city’s pension crisis.

A colleague who has been largely supportive of Emanuel said the mayor’s political fate may ultimately rest on whether Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is convicted of murdering McDonald.

“I just worry about where this trial is headed and what happens if he’s acquitted,” the alderman said.

“I don’t think anybody’s political fate should be based on a murder trial. But, the fact that he’s only charged with first-degree murder doesn’t give the jury any leeway. If he gets off, it’ll impact the mayor and the entire City Council.”

The Emanuel camp isn’t thinking that far ahead. For now, they’re just happy that, as the rock band Queen put it, “Another one bites the dust.”

“Mayor of Chicago is one of the greatest jobs in American politics. But, it’s also a very difficult job. And Rahm Emanuel is the guy in office now who will be very difficult to beat,” the Emanuel operative said.

“You’re not gonna find a lot of candidates who have his profile. There could be others who’ll do it. But, they’ll have to ask the same question: What is the risk? What is the reward?”