Inside the political resurrection of Rahm Emanuel

SHARE Inside the political resurrection of Rahm Emanuel
SHARE Inside the political resurrection of Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel sealed his bid for a second term by racking up decisive majorities among black and white voters and holding his own in Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s Hispanic base.

“I’m proud of the fact that we ran a citywide campaign that garnered results citywide,” an exhausted, but giddy, Emanuel said on the day after his victory.

“I enjoy campaigning because you hear things, you learn things that matter to people. You take those concerns into your office and make them your North stars.”

A former City Council ally of Mayor Harold Washington’s, Garcia had high hopes of resurrecting the black-Hispanic coalition that culminated in Washington’s 1983 election as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

Instead, it was Emanuel who came closer to bringing that old band back together. Fighting for his political life, the mayor managed to get just over 64 percent of the white vote, 57.3 percent of the black vote and 39 percent among Hispanics.

In the six-week period between the Feb. 24 and April 7 election, Emanuel boosted his support among African-American voters alienated by his record 50 school closings by 14.5 percentage points.

The runoff gain among white voters was a nearly as impressive 11.25 percentage points.

The increase was fueled by Emanuel’s showing in the Southwest Side’s 19thWard, where the son of Democratic power broker Jeremiah Joyce worked for Garcia. But Emanuel got 59 percent of the 19,828 total votes cast there.

The mayor’s boost among white voters was further driven by his 63.6 percent share of the 18,373 votes cast in the Northwest Side’s 41st Ward. That defied those who claimed Emanuel would pay a price for his decision to turn a deaf ear to noise-weary residents around O’Hare Airport.

And at a time when Garcia needed big numbers and nearly monolithic support from his Hispanic base to stand a chance against Emanuel’s $21.8 million war chest, the mayor not only held his own. He actually increased his share of the Hispanic vote — from 37.6 percent on Feb. 24to 39 percent on Tuesday.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) said his ward had a 56 percent turnout — well above the citywide 40 percent — and Emanuel carried 56 out of the 57 precincts.

“We had the Beverly Arts Center on the verge of closing. The mayor stepped in. We had 115th and Western, a vacant corner for 25 years. We now have an $18 million sports center under construction. He brought tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to many of our schools, including Morgan Park H.S.,” said O’Shea, who wrote a letter to his constituents spelling out those accomplishments.

“We have a very educated, engaged electorate. They see what’s going on. Some people may not like the mayor. They may not like his style. But they saw what the mayor’s done for our community.”

Emanuel’s political resurrection among African-American was made possible by an unlikely alliance with some of the veteran activists behind the draft Washington movement in 1983.

Former Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), community activist Eddie Reed and Conrad Worrill, director of the Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, were among the old Washington supporters who bypassed Garcia and put together an impressive ground game with 4,000 foot soldiers working the black community for Emanuel.

It happened after the mayor promised to improve neighborhood schools, deliver more jobs and contracts to African-Americans and use his muscle to demand a sorely needed trauma center on the South Side that area residents have been demanding as a condition for giving up 21 acres of parkland for an Obama presidential library.

“This is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Lyndon Baines Johnson moment. Johnson was a southern white man from Texas who didn’t know us or like us. We thought he was a racist. But he ended up being the best,” Tillman said.

“Like Johnson, Rahm Emanuel could rise to the occasion or stumble and fall. But we’re not gonna stand by and let him walk over us. You don’t just protest. You demonstrate to negotiate.”

Worrill credited Emanuel with putting aside his ego and listening to a “cadre of organizers with deep credentials and experience in electoral politics” who are equally “knowledegable about the issues and challenges facing” the black community.

“He adjusted his personality and style of leadership to listen and to allow for the execution of a campaign strategy that produced the results that you witnessed. It’s called organizing,” Worrill said.

“With the help of many people unknown and unsung, we put together a field operation that didn’t exist in the first round. There were over 4,000 people. Some were paid. Some weren’t. That shouldn’t be an issue. Quite frankly,a lot of people need to get paid because they didn’t have a job. They did visibility, door knocking, phone- banking, poll-watching, social media — a conglomeration of what it takes to pull out voters in a tight election.”

After giving Emanuel a second chance, Worrill said, “We now have an opportunity to put on the table an agenda and influence programmatic decisions in a way that will address some of the critical problems in the black community, like youth development, like enhanced economic development, like increased employment opportunities.”

What makes Worrill so sure that Emanuel will deliver on his many promises?

“I don’t think he has much of a choice in the matter. The dynamic of this election season has impacted the leadership style of Rahm Emanuel. I don’t see a retreat from the growth. Being successful in a city with all of its challenges requires the cooperative spirit of many people,” he said.

Ald. Will Burns (4th), whose ward delivered 8,006 votes or 58.6 percent for Emanuel, said the foot soldiers he oversaw in several black wards worked in crews of 30 and had already knocked on the doors of likely voters three times before the polls even opened.

“This was a ground game that didn’t exist before Feb. 24. A lot of those guys had worked on my campaign and I converted them to Rahm’s campaign. We trained them on the mayor’s agenda. We did role playing. We had tests. If people couldn’t pass the test, they couldn’t knock on doors. They had to know the script and be conversant in it,”Burns said.

“The school closings were a more potent issue two years ago. Given that 93 percent of kids are going to schools as good or better than ones they previously attended and Safe Passage has worked, the issue is not the lightning rod issue it was.”

Throughout the runoff campaign and since Tuesday’s victory, Emanuel has claimed he got the message delivered by voters who forced him to work for a second term.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle took a pass on the mayor’s race and remained neutral in both rounds, even though Garcia is a county commissioner who serves as Preckwinkle’s floor leader.

Preckwinkle has had a difficult relationship with Emanuel. She was asked Wednesday whether she believes the newly-re-elected mayor is a changed man. She replied matter-of-factly, “Well see what he does.”

“The biggest challenge he has is the financial state the city is in. The county’s situation is difficult. The city’s situation is desperate. We’ll see how he deals with that,” Preckwinkle said.

“He’s addressed concerns some of the voters had. We’ll see what he does. He’s made a commitment to a different style of leadership. We’ll see if that materializes. I’m a Christian. I believe in transformation and redemption.”

The Latest
An end to gun violence will take more effective gun regulation and long-term solutions that focus on jobs, education, mental health counseling and violence intervention.
The Cubs opened a three-game series against the Pirates at Wrigley Field on Monday.
Johnny Cueto threw six innings of scoreless two-hit ball against the Royals on Monday. He struck out seven.
The $19.5 million PCC Primary Care Pavilion will offer a gym, dance center, demonstration test kitchen, community meeting spaces and a community garden and urban farm to Austin residents to help lower the life expectancy gap.