- Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media
- Jesus Garcia addresses supporters at the Alhambra Palace last night after learning he made it into a runoff with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“Today, a majority of the people of Chicago said with one loud voice, ‘We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,'” Jesus “Chuy” Garcia told his jubilant supporters last night at the Alhambra Palace.
The crowd roared, but it wasn’t true. Most Chicagoans didn’t speak at all in yesterday’s mayoral election. They voted with their butts—they stayed home. Chicago has 1,421,430 registered voters, and 957,095 had better things to do. Maybe they were sick and tired of Rahm Emanuel, but none of his opponents inspired them to vote, either. Chuy made the runoff because a third of the third that voted went for him. It was hardly a ringing endorsement, as he surely knows.
The dynamic is different now, of course. A one-on-one race could rouse voters. Rahm “no longer looks invincible,” as Dick Simpson, the UIC political science professor and former independent alderman, told me at the Alhambra. The anti-Rahm crowd that stayed home will realize that Chuy really can send Rahm packing for Washington (or New York, or wherever), and more of them will vote on April 7. Some of the movers and shakers who fund campaigns may do a little moving and shaking for Chuy now, to hedge their bets. Most of them will just fork over more to Rahm, since Chuy’s really not their type.
Chuy has ground to make up: Rahm got 45 percent yesterday to his 34 percent. Can he do it in the next six weeks? That depends on the answers to some other questions:
• Who will African-Americans support?
I wrote back in November that if the city’s African-Americans and Latinos came together the way they did for Harold Washington, Chuy could make it a race. That might still happen, but it hasn’t yet. Rahm beat Chuy in the black wards yesterday—by nearly two to one in some of them. The wild card is the Willie Wilson vote: he got a quarter of the vote in the black wards (and 10.6 percent citywide). How many of Wilson’s supporters will return to the polls in April, to pick between a white and a Latino candidate? And who will they choose?
• Will Toni Preckwinkle finally take a stand?
The Cook County Board president is one of the most respected public officials in Chicago, and also is African-American. Garcia not only is on her board but serves as her floor leader. When she was asked in December if she’d endorse him, Preckwinkle responded by calling Garcia an “old friend.” She noted that she asked him to be her floor leader in 2011, even though he was in his first term, “which is sort of unusual.” What’s unusual is the trust she had in him, since a floor leader is key in making sure the board president’s plans prevail. “I’ve always been impressed by him,” Preckwinkle went on about Garcia. “He’s smart and talented. . . . But I said earlier I wasn’t going to take a position in this mayor’s race, and that’s where I am still.”
It’s a nice safe place to be. Will she remain there now?
• Who will the 7.4 percent of voters who went for Bob Fioretti go for?
The alderman and Garcia scuffled with each other a bit during the campaign, but left no obvious bruises, so expect the Fioretti supporters to vote mainly for Chuy.
• How many white votes can Chuy get?
Most of Chicago’s 2.7 million population—93 percent—is white, black, or Latino, and the split is fairly even among those groups. But among citizens of voting age, whites are 43 percent, African-Americans are 38 percent, and Latinos are only 19 percent. Chuy’s not going to win without substantial support from whites.
It was clear from his speech last night at the Alhambra that he realizes this. “Want to know who this campaign is for?” he asked the crowd. Then he told the story of a fifth-grade northwest-side student—a girl who was “smart as a whip” and “loved her friends, loved her teachers, loved her school.” One day, however, her parents told her teacher they were moving to the suburbs “because she was squeezed into a classroom with 35 other kids, and it just wasn’t fair.”
“That little girl left Chicago,” Chuy told the crowd. “Her parents left Chicago. It was Chicago’s loss. It was our loss.”
There wasn’t a wet eye in the building after that story. Now, I know it’s important to keep the middle class in the city. But of all the grievous injustices in Chicago, it was interesting that this was the one anecdote he told last night. In the realm of electoral politics, it was smart, I suppose. With the TV cameras trained on him, he seized his chance to make his pitch to the advantaged—because he needs them.
The answers to the questions above are important, but whether Chuy beats Rahm ultimately may turn on the question it should turn on: What’s his plan for Chicago? I wrote in January about his compelling background. But I noted then that he’d yet to offer a strategy for addressing Chicago’s severe fiscal problems. He still hasn’t.
Now, he must. “I’m the neighborhoods guy,” plus a commendable career of public service, plus not being the guy people are sick and tired of, was enough to get him into the runoff. It’s probably not enough to get him elected, nor should it be.