CHICAGO — The only surprise in the Feb. 22 mayor’s race was how quickly Rahm Emanuel’s victory came in. Just 90 minutes after the polls closed it was clear Emanuel had won decisively with 55 percent of the vote.
Since announcing his candidacy, Emanuel was seen as the inevitable winner with $12 million in the campaign bank, his celebrity status and ties to the White House in both the Obama and Clinton administrations.
With the corporate media’s help, Chicagoans saw Obama’s former chief of staff as the only “tough” leader who can “get things done” in challenging economic times and mess left by the previous mayor. Voters said he would utilize his powerful connections to make Chicago a “global” city. Chicago’s big business community is anxious to capitalize on the connections.
Yet, the “inevitability” factor may have contributed to the low voter turnout with many saying, “Why vote? It’s a done deal.” Only 40 percent of registered voters cast their ballots citywide, meaning Emanuel was elected by just over 20 percent of the electorate.
Another byproduct of the Emanual “invincibility” was the absence of substantial issue and policy debates among the candidates. Emanual ignored most of the community-hosted debates on public education, affordable housing and other important issues.
One candidate had perfect attendance at every forum: Miguel Del Valle who finished #3 among the top four candidates. With the least money and the least name recognition, Del Valle became the main advocate for a progressive, neighborhood-oriented vision for the city. He’s got a well-earned reputation of being a coalition builder and a strong advocate of labor and immigrant rights.
His campaign attracted thousands of young progressives and high school students. His daughter, Vanessa, recruited hundreds of volunteers from Facebook, while at law school in California.
In a jam-packed election night party, Del Valle gave a fighting speech, promising to continue what the campaign started — organizing a progressive-oriented, neighborhood-based force to “keep government accountable.” He urged Emanuel to adopt the campaign’s “neighborhood agenda.” Del Valle emphasized making neighborhood schools as viable an option for parents as Emanuel’s favored charter schools.
Gery Chico, former Daley staffer, came in second with 25 percent of the vote. Carol Mosley Braun, who had early on been polling at number two, came in fourth with under 9 percent of the vote. Mosley Braun had been dubbed the Black “concensus” candidate, yet did not win the majority of the African American vote. Numerous problems arose before and during her campaign that fatally hurt her credibility in voters’ eyes.
City council races became a battleground of labor and corporate interests. Labor-backed candidates won some key races. But, 14 aldermanic races are headed for an April 5 run-off with 10 incumbents failing to get 50 percent-plus-one votes needed to win outright. First-time candidate and Grammy-winning hip hop artist Che “Rhymefest” Smith forced labor-backed incumbent Willie Cochran into a run-off.
In 2007, a group of labor-backed independents were elected to the council during the battle for a living wage ordinance. They offered some challenges to the mayor, but for the most part the City Council has been a “rubber stamp” for Daley and his mainly pro-business, pro-real estate developers agenda. This election has changed that.
In arguably the most exciting results of the city’s elections, Ameya Pawar, a 30-year-old Indian American program assistant at Northwestern University, won the 47th Ward aldermanic seat, defeating the hand-picked “machine” candidate. The race attracted the third highest ward-based voter turnout in the city.
Pawar won just over 50 percent of the vote, avoiding a run-off, and surprising even himself with the win.
The 47th is the home ward of Mayor-elect Emanuel.
Pawar developed an iPhone app for ward residents to request city services and then follow where the request is at. The alderman-elect had offered it to all 50 ward aldermen, but none responded. Pawar has said he plans to utilize the new technology for better and equitable delivery of services.
Pawar not only won a stunning upset, he broke new ground by being the first Asian American to serve on Chicago’s city council.
In another first, Emanuel will be the first Jewish mayor of the Windy City.
Photo: Rahm Emanuel with the flag of Chicago in the background. (CC)