Will Chicago’s Black Voters Turn on Mayor Rahm Emanuel?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted guests at a Women for Rahm event in Chicago. Mr. Emanuel is campaigning for a second term. (Credit: Andrew Nelles for The New York Times)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted guests at a Women for Rahm event in Chicago. Mr. Emanuel is campaigning for a second term. (Credit: Andrew Nelles for The New York Times)

In some of this city’s predominantly black neighborhoods on the South Side, Rahm Emanuel was not well known when he swept into the mayor’s office in 2011. After all, he had been a congressman from the other, mostly white side of town. But most voters knew that President Obama, himself a South Sider, had trusted him to be White House chief of staff, and that backing went a long way. Mr. Emanuel won every majority black ward in the city.

Fast-forward four years and Chicago has gotten to know Mr. Emanuel. He oversaw the closing of nearly 50 public schools, and many of the schools were in minority neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. He clashed with the Chicago Teachers Union, which went on strike for the first time in a quarter-century. He presided through an increase in killings that included more than 500 homicides in one year, most of which took place on the South and West Sides.

Seeking a second term, Mr. Emanuel is seen as the front-runner beside four lesser-financed, lesser-known candidates. Yet as he tries to win re-election next week, an essential worry for his campaign is how well he will do with black residents, who make up about a third of the city’s population of 2.7 million. To avoid a runoff in April, Mr. Emanuel must win at least one vote more than 50 percent on Tuesday — an outcome that is threatened by the possibility of a weak showing from alienated black voters.

“It all seems to be just for the people who have money, not for the middle-income or the lower-income,” said Mary Anderson, a nursing educator from the South Side’s Chatham neighborhood. She said she supported Mr. Emanuel in 2011 but had yet to decide this time.

Ms. Anderson praised improvements to public transit on the South Side, but said the school closings and red-light cameras seemed to penalize people in the toughest neighborhoods more than those in the gleaming Loop and prosperous North Side.

“Nothing has happened in those communities that are desolate right now,” she said, adding of Mr. Emanuel: “He talks about a lot of plans. But who’s at the table? It’s still two Chicagos.”

That dynamic may help explain why Mr. Emanuel was standing beside Bobby L. Rush, a black South Side congressman, the other day inside the Little Black Pearl, a youth art center. Mr. Emanuel stood close, touching Mr. Rush’s arm several times, as the congressman spoke to a crowd that included the pastor to Harold Washington, the city’s first black mayor, as well as the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, the black teenager killed by gang-related crossfire not long after she performed in festivities to mark Mr. Obama’s last inauguration.

“I offer my support to the mayor fully cognizant that a few will strongly disagree with this decision,” Mr. Rush said. “They will say, ‘Bobby, why?’ ”

Mr. Emanuel’s campaign has made other appeals: a television advertisement featuring a black mother and a radio ad with Mr. Obama, in which the president says Mr. Emanuel “loves our city, and he believes every child in every neighborhood should have a fair shot at success.”

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