- Scott Olson/Getty Images
- Jesus Garcia, after voting Tuesday morning at Corkery Elementary in Little Village
In the three months of campaigning leading up to Tuesday, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia really couldn’t tell if he was catching on with voters. The county commissioner was greeted warmly when he was out shaking hands, but, he wondered, what did that mean? Was everyone just being nice?
“As election day neared, I kept seeing more enthusiasm,” he told me yesterday morning in his campaign headquarters on West Washington. “All these folks—’Hey, Chuy!’—like they knew me. Everybody wanted to take a photo. It was kind of embarrassing. I must have blushed in a lot of those pictures.”
He was heartened by the enthusiasm, but he and his top advisers could only guess what was going to happen on election day. The preelection polls were uncertain on the prospects of a runoff. They had Garcia finishing a distant second to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with Garcia capturing perhaps 25 percent of the vote in the field of five. Garcia’s political director, Clem Balanoff, was hoping for 31 percent. It was important not only that there be a runoff, but that Garcia got into the 30s “to make it clear we had a path to victory,” Balanoff told me yesterday.
Low turnout usually favors the incumbent, so Garcia wished for a bright, mild Tuesday. But when the polls opened at 6 AM, it was nine degrees at Midway and overcast. “I said, ‘Aw, man, this is not our day.'”
He spent most of the morning greeting voters outside polling places on the southwest side. He voted midmorning in Little Village. The temperature climbed to 19 by noon; a trace of snow fell afterward. He kept checking reports on turnout and getting the same answer: dismal.
Then, around 3:15, when he was on his way to a polling place in Hermosa, the sun emerged. There was a “sea change” in his mood. “I said, ‘Oh, this is our weather.’ My base has always turned out to vote mostly between 4 and 7 PM. It’s the working class, coming home from work. We always win in those three hours.”
During the last hour of voting, he called a few electoral experts he knew, but “no one had any clue” about how things were going for him.
At 7:45 he was at home, dressing for his election night party at the Alhambra Palace, when Balanoff texted him: We’re in the runoff!
“No call—just a text,” Garcia told me with a laugh. He texted back: “?”
On the phone a few minutes later, Balanoff briefed him: Emanuel would fall short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff, the early results indicated, and Garcia would finish second with more than the hoped-for 31 percent. Garcia needed convincing. “No, this isn’t gonna change,” Balanoff assured him. “This isn’t just the Latino wards—these results are citywide.” Emanuel finished with 45 percent, Garcia with 34 percent.
“They wrote us off, said we didn’t have a chance,” Garcia told his ecstatic supporters later at the Alhambra. “Well, we’re still standing! We’re still running! And we’re gonna win!”
After three hours of sleep that night, he was out shaking hands again first thing Wednesday at the el station at Merchandise Mart. Then there was interview after interview, mostly with national media—27 interviews in all.
He made time Wednesday afternoon for the essential pilgrimage to Willie Wilson’s downtown high-rise. Wilson, who’s African-American, won 10.6 percent of the vote, the vast majority of it in the city’s black wards. Garcia was seeking his support in the April 7 runoff. Emanuel had been there in the morning, seeking the same thing.
Wilson said yesterday that he’ll talk with his supporters before announcing whom he’ll endorse. Garcia told me he was optimistic, because he and Wilson had “developed a good rapport” during the campaign, and because he had more in common with Wilson than Emanuel did. Wilson was born in a village in Louisiana, Garcia in a village in Mexico. “He’s from the country, and I’m from the country,” Garcia told me. “Different countries, but we’re still from the country, right? We grew up with scarcity, so we appreciate the basic things of life.”
Garcia got a full five hours of sleep Wednesday and looked fresh yesterday morning. We discussed issues in the campaign; I’ll write about that next week. He was energized enough to jab at his opponent. He said voters sense that unlike Emanuel, he has no political ambitions beyond being mayor. What does he think Emanuel aspires to be? “Who knows? Senator? Chairman of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]? Emperor?”