Rahm Emanuel was dealt a tough political blow on Tuesday, after he was forced into a runoff election to hold onto his seat as mayor of the Windy City.
Emanuel, who raised about $15 million for the campaign, finished first in the five candidate field, but fell far short of garnering the 50% plus one vote he needed to win outright and avoid a runoff election. He will now face the second place finisher, Cook County Commissioner, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, on April 7.
Chicago ceased holding partisan primaries in 1995, when it switched to the current election format. It marks the first time that the city will hold a runoff mayoral election.
Emanuel, who raised more than his four rivals combined, buried his challengers in $7 million in campaign advertising in his unsuccessful attempt to avoid the runoff.
He even turned to President Obama, who Emanuel served as White House chief of staff from 2009 to 2010, as his chief surrogate.
Obama recorded a radio advertisement in which he endorsed Emanuel last month. The president flew to Chicago last week to announce the designation of the Pullman historic district, which manufactured sleeper cars at the turn of the 20th Century and was at the center of the black labor movement.
Emanuel’s latest television advertisement featured a clip of Obama wrapping Emanuel in a hug at the Pullman event and a sound bite of the president touting the mayor as “making sure that every Chicagoan in every neighborhood gets the fair shot at success that they deserve.”
But the president’s influence wasn’t able to help Emanuel close the deal.
“We need to upgrade our communities by building more and better schools,” said Tracy McGrady, a college student and part-time construction worker. “Instead, Rahm is closing them.”
In Chicago’s Bronzville neighborhood, a predominantly African-American neighborhood, Emanuel supporters appeared to be a rare breed.
“I don’t like Rahm,” said Henry Ray, who said he voted for Wilson. “He is doing nothing for my people.”
The mayor, a former U.S. congressman who served a district on Chicago’s Northwest Side, has faced scathing criticism for his decision to close 50 city schools with low enrollment and the scorn of Chicago teachers, who staged their first strike in 25 years early in Emanuel’s term. The mayor’s reputation also took a hit when the city recorded more than 500 murders in 2012.
For his part, Emanuel has noted that he raised the minimum wage, expanded full-day kindergarten programs for children in the city, and made big improvements in Chicago’s sprawling rapid transit system during his term.
“I like what [Emanuel] is doing for the city,” said Barb Boronski, who cast her ballot for the mayor at St. Wenceslaus Church on the city’s Northwest Side. “He does what the other candidates are afraid to do.”
Cook County Commissioner John Daley sang Emanuel’s praises not far from a polling station.
“Rahm has been an effective mayor and a strong leader in difficult times,” said Daley, whose brother and father spent a combined 43 years as mayors of Chicago. “He loves his job and he shows it.”
Garcia expressed confidence in the leadup to Tuesday’s vote that he would force a runoff.
He didn’t throw his hat into his race until after Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle opted not to launch bids to unseat Emanuel.
Garcia, 58, was born in Durango, Mexico. His father was a farm laborer who worked fields in California, Kansas, and Texas. When Garcia was 10, the family gained permanent residency status and moved to Chicago. He later became a U.S. citizen.
In addition to serving as a Cook County commissioner, Garcia previously was elected to Chicago city council and served in the Illinois General Assembly.
SOURCE: USA Today – Aamer Madhani