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Emanuel’s floor leader acknowledges that he could lose April 2 runoff

Ald. Patrick J. O'Connor and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Patrick J. O'Connor and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s floor leader, acknowledged Friday he could lose his April 2 runoff to a former rapper because it’s a change election and O’Connor’s 36 years in the City Council personifies stability.

Andre Vasquez is a 39-year-old political newcomer endorsed by United Working Families and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. That’s the local chapter of the national organization that supports Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Vasquez recently showcased an internal poll that shows him with a 15 percentage point lead over O’Connor, who inherited the Finance Committee chairmanship that Ald. Edward Burke (14th) relinquished after being charged with attempted extortion.

On Friday, O’Connor openly acknowledged what might have been politically unthinkable in almost any other year: Chicago’s second-longest-serving aldermen could lose to a neophyte.

“My approval ratings are great. Most people appreciate that they live in the … safest ward in the city. All of our schools, with the exception of one, perform at the top level. All of them have had considerable capital projects that I’ve fought for over the years,” O’Connor said during a taping of the WLS-AM Radio program “Connected to Chicago,” to be broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Ald. Pat O'Connor.

Ald. Pat O’Connor. | Brian Jackson / Sun-Times

“But newer folks into the neighborhood … don’t remember Clark Street having methadone clinics. They don’t remember when there weren’t many good restaurants or great stores. It takes work to get that way.”

On Feb. 26, O’Connor finished first in a field of five with 33.3 percent, or 4,446 votes, to 20 percent, or 2,683 votes, for Vasquez.

That forced him into a runoff for the right to extend his 36-year reign.

“When people hear that, that could be enough for anybody. Think about it. People don’t do much for 30 years — ever. … At what point in time is your shelf life over?” he said.

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O’Connor openly acknowledged this is a change election dominated by the burgeoning City Hall corruption scandal.

“Stability is pretty much the opposite of change. But Trump was change. Rauner was change,” he said.

“I’d like to make sure that people in our neighborhood understand that all change is not always good. … We’re gonna have a brand new mayor and a lot of new Council members. It might be nice to have some folks around who have a little knowledge of what’s gone on in the building.”

Fighting for his political life, O’Connor highlighted the vulgar, homophobic, misogynistic and anti-immigrant things that Vasquez said during his days as a battle rapper.

40th Ward aldermanic candidate Andre Vasquez 2019 election Rich Hein

40th Ward aldermanic candidate Andre Vasquez at the Sun-Times Dec. 20. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“Here’s a guy who, online, refers to undocumented immigrants as `lazy border jumpers.’ He refers to members of the LGBTQ community in the most unbelievable language and talks about women by describing them by their anatomy,” he said.

Contacted Friday, Vasquez apologized for the language he used during his career as a battle rapper.

“I just didn’t have, really, the education and context.  Because I felt inadequate in my own skin, I denigrated others. There aren’t any excuses for it. I unequivocally apologize for that. But that’s not the person I am. It’s not the person who, prior to being part of the campaign, was organizing in the city,” he said.

Vasquez strongly disagreed with his opponent that Chicago in general and the City Council in particular would lose something valuable if O’Connor is defeated.

He noted that 67 percent of voters surveyed in his 40th Ward poll say they are “voting for change.”

“What he may term as stability, most of the neighbors view as the same old machine politics that have gotten us to this place we’re in as a city now. People just want a new direction,” Vasquez said.

“He’s someone who benefited from a corrupt political system. I don’t think we can trust someone who’s benefited from that system for over 30 years to be the one to reform it.”