Saturday, February 28, 2015

Is it now all up to Willie?

If I were a political operative being paid by mayoral hopeful Jesus Garcia, I would have advised him to do whatever was necessary to get former candidate Willie Wilson on his side, and quickly.

I think it would have been a major political coup for his campaign if he could have had a press conference by Friday with Wilson at his side; with the one-time McDonald’s franchise operator saying how much he backs the concept of “Mayor Chuy.”

IT WOULD HAVE created the illusion of all the non-Anglo residents of Chicago uniting against “Mayor 1 percent,” and given a jolt right off the bat to the Garcia mayoral campaign. It would be perceived that the mayor is staggering back to his corner of the political boxing ring.

Likewise, I’m sure Mayor Rahm Emanuel would also like to have that endorsement, although his priority I’m presuming is to keep Wilson silent and away from taking any sides in the run-off mayoral election that Willie did not qualify for.

All of which means Wilson is probably more important now than he was when he was one of five mayoral candidates on the ballot for Tuesday’s municipal elections.

Wilson only took 11 percent of the vote on Tuesday, but he is perceived as having hurt Emanuel already because of the thought that his backers likely wouldn’t have voted at all – meaning the roughly 220,000 votes he received would have been more than 50 percent, which would have been an outright victory instead of qualification for a run-off.

I EXPECT WILSON will enjoy this newfound attention and his ego will milk it for all it’s worth, particularly if he can get either Garcia or Emanuel to promise to deliver something that was part of his own political campaign’s platform.

The longer he goes without backing Garcia, the less his support would mean to that mayoral campaign.

Personally, I found it intriguing that Wilson on Election Night said he would back Garcia. But now the Chicago Sun-Times is publishing stories saying Wilson took back his endorsement.

And everybody is reporting on how both Emanuel and Garcia made the trip to Wilson’s downtown high-rise condo to make their appeal. Almost like they have to grovel for his support – just like the old-time Democratic Party politicos conducted slating sessions to make would-be candidates beg for their place on the party’s ballot.

WHEN LOOKED AT in that context, I find it amusing – the thought of Rahm down on his knees and kissing the ring, so to speak, to try to get another term as mayor.

But Garcia needs it more!

Because no matter how much people want to say the black vote in Chicago turned on Emanuel, the fact is that he won it on Tuesday. Some 51.8 percent of voters in African-American majority wards preferred the mayor, while only 35.8 percent were willing to go for Garcia.

The county commissioner from the Little Village neighborhood has the perception of being the “Latino candidate” and nothing more, at this point. Tapping into more African-American support is essential for him come April 7.

BECAUSE EMANUEL IS close to being the winner come the run-off election. A We Ask America poll taken for the Chicago Retail Merchants Association shows
Emanuel with 48.65 percent and 13.63 percent undecided. He only needs to get a tiny portion of that in order to win.

Then, there’s the polling done this week for Emanuel by the Global Strategy Group, which shows Emanuel already a winner with 50.4 percent. It wouldn’t matter what the 10.6 percent undecided did – except to determine by how much of a margin Garcia loses by.

My gut feeling says that the people inclined to vote for Garcia already have, and that many of the people who wanted another candidate either will find a way to come around to Emanuel or wind up sitting home in the April run-off.

I still remember the moment from a mayoral debate when Garcia said he likes Wilson because of his down-home approach to life that reminded him of people from his native village in northern Mexico. My guess is that we’ll find out soon how truthful Garcia was when he made those comments.


Friday, February 27, 2015

What can we learn about Chuy from last Little Village neighborhood mayor?

When Barack Obama became president-elect in 2008, I spent the next few weeks re-reading everything I could get my hands on concerning Harold Washington and “Council Wars;” suspecting that Republican reaction to an Obama presidency would bear similarities to the hostilities Washington faced from the City Council.

Some of that background has come in handy throughout the years, even though the modern-day GOP is slightly more subtle in its rhetoric than the Vrdolyak caucus was when expressing its racial contempt for Chicago’s first black man elected to be mayor.

WHICH HAS ME wondering if there are lessons from history that can be learned about what kind of mayor Jesus “Chuy” Garcia would be, should it somehow turn out that he gets himself elected on April 7 as the city’s first Latino (Mexican-American, to be precise) chief executive.

Specifically, I’m wondering about the story of Anton Cermak – whom I’m sure some people only know of as the guy for whom 22nd Street was renamed following his death in 1933.

A part of me sees similarities between former Mayor Cermak and Garcia and wonders if there is some larger lesson that can be learned about what kind of public official we would get should voters decide to make Chuy our mayor.

Now I’m sure some people will claim there is nothing in common between the two men. But I see similarities, and not just because both Garcia and Cermak came out of the same Little Village neighborhood southwest of downtown.

BACK IN CERMAK’S time, Little Village and Pilsen were eastern European enclaves – which is why it was natural that when Austria-Hungary-born Cermak came to Chicago, he settled there.

Why also it became the base on which he got elected in the early 20th Century to the Illinois House of Representatives, the City Council and then the Cook County Board where he moved up to being county board president. Garcia also is a pol who has served as alderman, state senator and county commissioner -- prior to running for mayor.

It was a collection of immigrant families who felt they were being ignored by the political establishment of the time that ultimately backed Cermak’s desire to be mayor in 1931.

Just as how now it seems to be a collection of immigrant families (albeit from the Americas instead of eastern European nations) who are the base of those who want Garcia to succeed in his mayoral aspirations against a candidate whom they feel ignores their concerns and is too focused on an elite of Chicago.

OF COURSE, TIMES change. Situations evolve. Back when Cermak made his mayoral bid, the political establishment was Irish and not interested in sharing much of anything with other Chicagoans.

Then-Mayor William Hale Thompson seemed unwilling to listen to others, and tried dismissing Cermak’s candidacy by attacking his credibility because he was so ethnic. A “bohunk,” to use the terminology of the time. “Pushcart Tony.” The guy who should be delivering your vegetables, rather than running the city.

I’m sure we’re going to get our share of tacky one-liners in coming weeks about how ridiculous it is to have a “filthy Mexican” in charge, instead of just contacting federal immigration officers to have him deported.

Let’s hope the mayor has enough sense not to go down that path himself, although I’m sure there will be political operatives willing to do just that.

CERMAK OVERCAME ETHNIC hostility by putting together a political coalition of people from all the ethnic and racial groups in Chicago whom the white Irish establishment didn’t want to bother with. It wound up being enough to win him re-election, and was the origin of the current political “machine” in Chicago that got Emanuel elected in 2011.

Garcia’s chances of winning could well be because he could unite the Latino population that accounts for about 30 percent of city residents with those African-American residents and even white ethnics who feel they have been forgotten about at City Hall.

For all I know, the matter may well be the descendants of the people who 84 years ago gave us “Mayor Cermak!” Which would be the ultimate bit of irony if it took this city’s diverse ethnic composition to help revamp the city political structure that it created way back when.

Garcia has implied that if elected mayor, he wants to put an emphasis on the neighborhoods, and in getting more police officers hired. Similar to how Cermak used his own political influence to get the then-brand-new Criminal Court building erected in his home neighborhood.

WHICH WOULD BE different from the string of mayors we have had for decades. Both Richard J. and M. Daley got hit with the same criticisms about favoring “the Loop” over the neighborhoods that we now hear aimed at Emanuel.

Could it take a Garcia to give Little Village (or perhaps we should now call it La Villita?) something for its character, other than living in the shadow of the county courthouse and jail?


EDITOR’S NOTE: Personally, I find author Gary Rivlin’s book “Fire on the Prairie” to be the best in telling the story of black political empowerment in Chicago and the days of “Council Wars.” If anyone has any suggestions of worthy books about the Cermak days, I’d be interested in knowing of them.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Will ’15 run-off be a boost for Latino political empowerment in Chicago?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel deserves one bit of credit as he begins campaigning for re-election in the run-off election to be held April 7 – he seems to have a clue as to what the political challenge is before him.

He needs to appeal to Latino voters, and on Election Night Rahm used Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to introduce him – a Latino face talking up Rahm, and even reverting to the Spanish language for part of it.

A REMINDER TO those Latinos who voted for Emanuel in Tuesday’s municipal elections who are now going to face pressure to vote in the run-off for Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Who is going to try, amongst other tactics, to make this the chance for the roughly 30 percent of Chicagoans who are of Latin American ethnic origins to assert ourselves politically and elect “one of our own” to the mayor’s post!

I believe that if Garcia hadn’t have done as well as he did in the first part of this election cycle (34 percent of the vote, when many polls had him finishing with somewhere between 17 and 24 percent political support), we wouldn’t have heard from Gutierrez.

It was, after all, an odd match-up – the fact that Gutierrez backed Emanuel’s re-election was more a statement that he thought none of the challengers had what it took to be mayor.

LET’S NOT FORGET that when Emanuel served as chief of staff to President Barack Obama, he was the one that was the brunt of Gutierrez’ constant attacks on Obama’s failure to address immigration reform.

The perception amongst many Latino activists is that it was Emanuel not wanting to be bothered with the politically divisive issue – and that he was willing to let a significant Latino concern (many perceive opposition to the issue as a sign of disrespect in general toward the Latino segment of our society) be continually put on the backburner to try to appease conservative ideologues.

Emanuel as mayor has had to address Latino concerns and try to win over those in Chicago who are primarily of Mexican and Puerto Rican ethnic origins.

Now, Emanuel is going to have to run for re-election against a progressive-minded Democrat (the mayor is more centrist, no matter what the conservative ideologues want to believe about him) born in Mexico and raised in the ethnic Pilsen and Little Village enclaves.

ALL OF THAT is going to come into play during the next six weeks until the final municipal election. That is why Gutierrez got trotted out to be Emanuel’s face!

Gutierrez should be acknowledged for a bit of honesty Tuesday night – he admitted that back in 2011, he was amongst Emanuel’s opponents and was among the roughly 60 percent of Chicago Latinos who voted for one of the two Latino candidates (Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle) who were seeking the post.

Now, he’s going to be amongst the people trying to persuade his constituents to take Rahm seriously. It makes sense for him to be a key player in coming weeks.

Because when one looks at maps of Chicago showing which mayoral candidate prevailed in each of the city’s 50 wards, it becomes clear that Emanuel was the winner across the city EXCEPT for those Southwest Side Mexican-oriented wards and the Northwest Side Puerto Rican-based wards.

THEY ALMOST MATCH up perfectly with the parts of Chicago that are within the weird-shaped congressional district that makes Gutierrez the chief political representative for Latino people.

There are a couple of exceptions – Garcia also prevailed in the 49th Ward of the Rogers Park neighborhood and the 10th Ward at the far southeast corner of Chicago that contains some of the city’s oldest Spanish-speaking enclaves.

In that latter ward, there also was a run-off resulting from the aldermanic election – 10th Ward Ald. John Pope will have to face off against Susan Sadlowski Garza, a career educator and official within the Chicago Teachers Union.

Pope is either praised or criticized within the ward for being an Emanuel backer (a 100 percent voting record of supporting the mayor), while Garza follows the lead of union President Karen Lewis in backing Garcia.

I MENTION THAT ward because it seems Garcia took a slim margin in the mayoral race (48 percent, to 38 percent for Emanuel), while in the aldermanic race Pope prevailed with 44 percent of the vote, compared to 24 percent for Garza.

That would make it seem that there were at least a few (the ward is 63 percent Latino) people who cast their ballots for both Garcia and Pope. Could it be that at least a few of those Latinos will wind up finding it within themselves to back Emanuel come April 7.

City-wide, Emanuel took about 37 percent of the Latino support, compared to just over 52 percent for Garcia. If Emanuel can’t gain a good portion of the remaining 11 percent Latino vote, then he is destined to be a mayoral one-termer just like Michael Bilandic or Jane Byrne.

While Chicagoans at-large will have to endure at least four years of stupid Star Wars-themed jokes about our new mayor’s nickname.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When it came to mayor, did two-thirds of city's electorate channel their inner Rhett Butler and "not give a damn?"

As I write this late Tuesday, it seems that Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to take a majority of the ballots cast in Chicago's municipal election.

He clearly got more votes than any other individual candidate. But his vote total came to about 46 percent early in the evening, and eventually dropped to 45 percent by night's end.

IT SEEMS THAT the mayor will have to face off one-on-one against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who came in second in the mayoral race taking 34 percent of the vote.

The other candidates all came in far lower than that, although there are some political observers who are crediting black businessman Willie Wilson (11 percent) with costing Emanuel an outright victory. The assumption being that most of those people wouldn’t have voted for anybody – which means Emanuel’s vote total would have surpassed the “50 percent plus One” standard that would have been instant victory.

I have to admit that these figures don’t particularly interest me. The one that catches my attention is the fact that it seems voter turnout in this mayoral election reached a record low.

Lower than the 33.08 percent that was reached in 2007 when Richard M. Daley ran for his final term in office against opposition to whom even the label “token” would be an overstatement.

THE EARLY ESTIMATES was that about 31 or 32 percent of all the registered voters in Chicago bothered to use an early voter facility or show up at a polling place on Election Day.

That makes about 68 percent of the would-be voters (I’m not counting city residents who are too lazy to even register) who couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots.

For all those people who are waking up Wednesday with a disgusted mood because of how the election turned out (either because you’re establishment enough that you wanted Emanuel re-elected, or you’re contrarian enough to think that any of the mayoral challengers were going to do better than they did), I’d have to say “stifle” (the Archie Bunker in me comes out at times like this).

So many of you couldn’t be bothered to take a stance.

IF ANYTHING, IT would appear that candidate William “Dock” Walls  (a.k.a., "Mr. 3 percent") may have been correct in making his concession statement, while also saying he has no intention of making a fourth bid for mayor come the 2019 elections (I’m skeptical of that statement).

“You can’t save people who aren’t ready to be saved,” Walls told those who gathered for his Election Night event. It’s up to the electorate to act. If they fail to do so, then complaints truly aren’t worth hearing.

Talk truly can be cheap!

I must admit to finding one benefit to the fact that so many people didn’t bother to vote – counting votes really went by quickly.

I SPENT MY time watching election results on a CLTV/WGN-TV combo Tuesday night, and that 46-34 percent tally for Emanuel/Garcia was reached by 7:50 p.m., with ballots in 71 percent of precincts citywide having been counted by 8 p.m.

Many aldermen already knew by that point that they had been re-elected, while Rey Colon of the 35th Ward knew he lost to Carlos Ramirez-Sosa.

Emanuel had Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., introduce his Election Night speech at about 9:30 a.m., partly in Spanish. Which I suspect was meant to thwart any possibly rhetoric about how this was a Latino electoral victory to have a Chuy vs. Rahm run-off.

Emanuel, the man once despised by Latino activists and Gutierrez himself for the way he as White House chief of staff discouraged President Barack Obama from taking on immigration reform as a priority, now wants us to think he loves Latinos.

I CAN’T EVER recall an election cycle where it was so obvious so early how things would turn out. Considering there were precincts on the North lakefront and Northwest sides of the city that remained open late because of technical problems, we literally had some people still casting ballots when things were already settled.

Yet for many Chicagoans, it probably didn’t matter. I’m sure they had other issues they considered much more interesting than a mayoral campaign. They may claim the weather insurmountable – temperatures expected to drop as low as 1 degree below zero on Wednesday.

Which is when the Chuy vs. Rahm brawl that culminates April 7 begins!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EXTRA: Which Jesus was bigger news

“Jesus” was definitely a name in the news on Tuesday, but I suspect most people were more interested in Davila than Garcia.

Garcia, of course, is the mayoral hopeful whom it seems has finished in second place in the municipal election. Because it appears Mayor Rahm Emanuel finished a few percentage points short of a majority, the two are now running against each other come April 7.

YET THE “JESUS” who was all over the television news throughout the day Tuesday was Jesus Davila.

The suburban Naperville resident was the big winner of a record-high prize ($265 million) in the Mega Millions Lottery game, and he chose to come forward and claim his prize on Tuesday.

Because he’s choosing to take his prize in one lump sum rather than distributed over the next couple of decades, he’s getting a smaller amount. Taxes also will be deducted.

But the 70-year-old man is still in line for a $127 million payout. Which I’m sure intrigues the general public more than the 34 percent of the vote that Garcia seems to have taken toward his mayoral aspirations.


What happens to opponents following the Tuesday municipal elections?

Jesus Garcia may wind up being the “big” winner of this election cycle, even if he doesn’t wind up winning a mayoral election either Tuesday or in April.

Garcia has been on the local political scene off-and-on for the past three decades, and has served at City Hall, the Statehouse in Springfield and at the County Building.

THE LATTER IS his current place of political occupancy – he’s been a county board member for the past four years and just got himself re-elected to another four-year term back in the November election cycle.

Which means he doesn’t face political oblivion if he doesn’t win on April 7, or finishes lower than second place on Tuesday.  If anything, he’s now a county board member with a bit of the public spotlight glowing off him.

He has a chance to be one of the power players on the county board; and definitely one of the more significant of the 17 commissioners.

He’s probably not going to become the equivalent of Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, in terms of being significant in the way Cook County government does its business (the Daley brother is the county board’s finance committee chair).

BUT HE’S CERTAINLY going to draw more attention than someone like Gregg Goslin, R-Glenview, whom I wonder if even northwest suburban residents are aware of who he is.

A return to the county board following the municipal elections could give Garcia the chance to have so many political observer eyes focused on him that he becomes someone significant.

If he handles himself right, he could become a political powerbroker in his own right. People could wind up benefitting in the key issues and the constituency that he claims to represent during his mayoral campaign.

If anything, I wonder if he could wind up being one of the most successful mayoral also-rans on the local political scene.

CURRENTLY, I’D HAVE to say that niche is filled by Timothy Evans.

Remember when he challenged Richard M. Daley back in the late 1980s when the future mayor was trying to win his first term (actually, the right to finish what was left of the late Harold Washington’s mayoral stint)?

Evans was a significant part of Washington’s allies in the City Council, and he managed to dominate the African-American vote the same way Harold did. Only he couldn’t take any significant white or Latino vote like Washington, so he wound up losing.

Yet Evans is now the chief justice of the Cook County court system. Which isn’t a bad post to have. I can think of a lot of political people whose over-bloated egos would be thoroughly satisfied if they could wind up with such a position some day!

IT’S NOT LIKE some of the other Daley challengers throughout the years, such as Danny Davis or Bobby Rush – who remain in Congress but clearly have shown they will never advance any further than their own particular neighborhoods in terms of being taken seriously.

Garcia, if he conducts himself properly in coming weeks, could provide himself a chance to move up in authority. Or else he could be the guy who quickly gets forgotten except for the confines of his home Little Village neighborhood.

We’ll have to wait and see.

As for the other mayoral challengers, I’m not sure what to think. Second Ward Ald. Robert Fioretti had to give up a chance to keep his City Council post in order to run for mayor, and I suspect his outspoken demeanor as an alderman will ensure the powerbrokers will go out of their way to keep him outside the political structure.

IS HE THE new member of the “ancient history” club that now includes people such as Richard Phelan and Jack O’Malley -- the one-time county board president and state's attorney, for those who have forgotten?

Willie Wilson likely also will not have much of a political future. Although I’ll admit it would be interesting if whoever does wind up winning the mayoral post were to consider making the one-time McDonald’s franchise operator-turned-millionaire into some sort of adviser to government.

He does have some ideas worth considering (albeit not his suggestions of doing away with the police superintendent’s post) and he speaks for a constituency that does not get listened to often enough.

And as for William “Dock” Walls? We’ll likely see him again in 2019 when he again tries running a token bid for mayor and takes 2 percent of the vote – making him the 21st Century equivalent of Lar “America First” Daly, who ran for mayor and so many other political posts during his life without ever winning a thing!


Monday, February 23, 2015

Who will win? It all depends on who bothers to turn out Tuesday to vote

I’m not about to predict how the mayoral election will turn out on Tuesday.

My gut feeling says it shouldn’t be a surprise if Rahm Emanuel manages to come up with a bare majority – enough votes to win re-election outright, rather than have to go through a run-off come April 7 against whoever manages to finish in second place on Tuesday.

THEN AGAIN, THE number of people who are detested by the very thought of another Mayor Emanuel term could be just enough that we have to go through another election just over a month from now.

Which is something that many voters in Chicago will have to do anyway, because there are several wards in the city that have competitive aldermanic races. Some people are going to have to vote a second time to decide their City Council representation; why not hit them up to cast another mayoral vote on that date as well?

Back a few days ago, I pointed out how poor the totals were for people deciding to cast their ballots at early vote centers. Evidence that the electorate probably wasn’t getting all worked up over this election cycle – despite the hostile Rahm rhetoric expressed by a few.

Although I feel a need to point out that the final few days of early voting (which ran through Saturday) saw a flood of people.

THE CHICAGO BOARD of Elections indicated nearly 90,000 people casting early ballots for Tuesday’s election, compared to just over 73,000 who voted early in the 2011 mayoral election cycle that first gave us “Mayor Emanuel.”

Although I can’t help but note that the early voting totals for the November 2014 elections for governor were also higher than the previous gubernatorial cycle in 2011. Yet that didn’t translate into higher voter turnout overall.

Overall, the percentage of registered voters who bothered to cast ballots was something along the lines of 42 percent – which stinks. It would seem to be that the people who passionately cared about whether Gov. Pat Quinn or Bruce Rauner would be elected cast their votes early.

Could that be the same factor at work, where the people who are all outraged have already expressed themselves – leaving it to the apathetic masses of our electorate to decide this political post with their lack of activity on Tuesday?

THERE WERE MANY candidates working the streets this weekend – trying to make one last push to persuade people to vote for them. My own favorite involved the South Side Irish Parade’s fundraising event.

Candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia had special “Chuy for Mayor” buttons designed – green and white with shamrocks that would have been totally in character for an Irish-inspired politico trying to gain some support.

For all I know, Emanuel could take about 48 percent of the vote on Tuesday, with Garcia coming in second – even though Willie Wilson’s African-American-oriented campaign is trying to get us all to believe that a surge of black votes will be enough to allow him to be “Number Two” and the other candidate in an April run-off.

Many political observers are desperate for an April run-off because they think it will provide the competitive campaigns and electioneering that this election cycle hasn’t provided thus far.

ANYTHING TO TURN this snooze-fest of an election into something memorable or exciting, is the way they feel.

It’s possible, I suppose, even though I’m skeptical.

It’s just that I’m not inclined to believe the supporters of the various Emanuel challengers are capable of uniting behind each other after Tuesday. “Anybody But Rahm” may turn out to be sitting on their behinds come another Election Day.

And if people do decide not to bother voting, then they deserve whatever political leadership we all wind up with at City Hall come May.