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.


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