Emanuel’s campaign is baseless, not clueless
by RUSS STEWART
A politician without an identifiable, dependable and deliverable base, whether it be geographic, racial, ideological or demographic, is like a motor vehicle without wheels. He or she is going nowhere.
That’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s predicament as the 2015 municipal election looms ever closer. The mayor has no wheels.
Emanuel has no cognizable political base. To be sure, he has a huge donor base, much of it attributable his brother’s Hollywood connections and to his longstanding ties to Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton and their national fund-raising networks. Keeping their pal Rahm as Chicago’s mayor is certainly a top Clinton priority. As of March 31, Emanuel had $7,391,991 in his campaign account. He will raise another $4 million to $6 million.
Emanuel does have a couple of beachheads. The Jewish vote, which is concentrated along the Lakefront and in West Rogers Park and Hyde Park but which amounts to barely 5 percent of the citywide vote, and the North Side Ravenswood/47th Ward/40th Ward area, where the mayor resides and where Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th), his City Council floor leader, dominates. That’s it.
Emanuel’s problems can be summarized as follows:
First, he is neither well liked nor popular. A recent Chicago Sun-Times poll gave him an embarrassing 29 percent in a 2015 multi-candidate field which included three unannounced candidates — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) — and one announced candidate, Robert Shaw.
Even Emanuel’s predecessor, Rich Daley, who served from 1989 to 2011 and who is now much maligned for his kick-the-can-down-the-road governing style which precipitated the pension crisis, never had those dismal polling numbers. When 71 percent of the voters don’t want you or don’t know if they want you, it’s panic time.
Second, Emanuel has no signature achievements — no revenue-producing casino, no diminution in gun violence, no startling spike in school performance, no spurt of commercial construction. Unemployment in Illinois is 7.8 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation. What is his rationale for another term?
A politician often benefits from the enemies he has made, since the enemies of one’s enemies are one’s friends. Closing schools, prompting a strike by rejecting teachers union demands, backing charter schools, resisting police and fire wage-hike demands and advocating pension reforms made only enemies, not friends, and gang violence, manifested by drive-by killings, persists.
Chicagoans view Emanuel as a clever, competent mayor or, perhaps more accurately, not as bumbling, ineffectual or inept, but they also perceive him as arrogant, egotistical and ambitious. Emanuel wants it his way, all the time. There is no doubt that Emanuel sees the mayoralty as a steppingstone to higher office, such as governor or president, not as a career capstone like Daley.
To succeed, Emanuel must get re-elected in 2015, and to get re-elected, he must be sufficiently clever to temporarily solve the city’s pension crisis, which is required by state law. The city’s pension deficit is $27.5 billion. Six funds must be replenished by $590 million in 2015.
manuel has proposed a $250 million property tax increase over 5 years, or $50 million annually, for a total of $750 million in property tax collections through 2020. That option is unacceptable to both taxpayers and aldermen.
Third, Emanuel has no "clout" with the aldermen who will have to vote to raise taxes, although there is little doubt that he can and will strong-arm 28 to vote in favor of it. At most, two or three of the City Council’s 19 black aldermen will get some anti-tax blowback, as might some of the eight Hispanic aldermen. In the minority wards, where renters exceed far home owners, the opprobrium will be minimal. There are 23 white aldermen, and 12 to 15 of them will cover their butts and oppose a property tax hike.
At the onset of the Emanuel Administration, there was a palpable "fear factor" among the white aldermen, who felt that if you defy the mayor, he will have the cash to beat you in 2015. That has totally dissipated. The 2015 election will not be a coronation for King Rahm, in which he can purge recalcitrant aldermen. It will be a tough gauntlet with a runoff and millions or dollars spent on negative ads. Opposing the mayor, as Alderman John Arena (45th) has demonstrated, is a ticket to re-election, not oblivion.
As his polling demonstrates, Emanuel will have to go negative to win. He must make his runoff opponent less acceptable than he.
Fourth, the vaunted "Machine" is tottering, and it won’t help Emanuel. Certain white-controlled ward organizations, in the 11th, 13th, 14th, 19th and 23rd wards on the Southwest Side and the 33rd, 39th and 40th wards on the Northwest Side, can deliver for local candidates, but they won’t exert themselves if Emanuel’s unpopularity jeopardizes their alderman.
Emanuel has not played the patronage game as did Daley, some of whose minions were convicted of crimes. Of course, under the Shakman decree, vast armies of city job holders scouring precincts are a memory. Absent jobs and intimidating polling numbers, white aldermen and committeemen will be absent for Emanuel in 2015. Nobody wants to be tied to an unpopular, tax-hiking mayor. The key to the mayor’s re-election will be money, not manpower. Victory will be won on television, not in the precincts.
Whatever money Emanuel raises will be used to re-elect him, not to purge any aldermen.
Fifth, Emmanuel’s theme for 2015 will be less than uplifting or awe-inspiring. It will be, "They’re worse than I am." That sounds like Governor Pat Quinn’s 2014 campaign.
Only a few months ago, Emanuel’s strategy was to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the Feb. 24 municipal election, then use his leftover cash to target anti-Emanuel aldermen such as Arena and Nick Sposato (36th) in the April runoffs. Now his goal is just to finish first on Feb. 24, as close to 50 percent of the vote as possible, and then go negative for the next 5 weeks.
The filing deadline for mayoral nominating petitions is Nov. 24, 3 weeks after the Nov. 4 election. Preckwinkle is deemed Emanuel’s most formidable challenger, as she has a sizable base among black voters and she would have appeal to white liberals and women. The presumption has been that Preckwinkle, a former Hyde Park alderman who has no Republican opponent and who has repeatedly denied any interest in running for mayor, would have insufficient time between Nov. 4 and Nov. 24 to gather the requisite 12,500 signatures (in reality, 30,000, just to be safe). "She can get the petitions in a weekend," South Side politician Joe Ziegler said, adding that Emanuel would have no appeal to black voters if Preckwinkle ran.
The 2015 city budget must be submitted before December, so Emanuel will be on record at filing time as either favoring or avoiding a property tax hike.
When incumbents run, it’s a referendum on their record. Daley won solid victories in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, increasing his percentages each election, even though his raw vote declined from 574,619 in 1991 to 318,578 in 2007. The vote for black candidates plunged from 412,864 in 1991 to 128,993 in 2007. The keys to Daley’s longevity were that he carried his South Side white voter base with 85 percent of the vote, the Northwest Side with more than 70 percent and the Lakefront with more than 60 percent, he discouraged credible white candidates from running, he pacified Hispanic aldermen with jobs and services and didn’t irritate black voters, and his most serious threats, such as Jesse Jackson Jr. and Luis Gutierrez, fell by the wayside. Daley also raised $5 million each election cycle.
Daley’s retirement in 2011 made it the first regular mayoral election since 1947 without an incumbent on the ballot. Special elections in 1977 and 1989 featured appointed incumbents. Hence, the 2011 election was a choice, not a referendum. In typical "Machine" fashion, Daley announced his retirement late, and the fix was in for Emanuel. Against five foes, the most credible being Gery Chico, Emanuel amassed 321,773 votes (53 percent of the total cast), to 115,570 (20 percent) for Chico. Chico beat Emanuel 35,691-26,578 in the Southwest Side wards, while Emanuel won the predominantly white Northwest Side wards 65,469-37,471. A property tax hike would cut Emanuel’s vote in half.
In the predominantly black wards, where the most credible black candidate was Carol Moseley Braun, Emanuel won 119,699-40,156. Against Preckwinkle or Lewis, the mayor’s vote in those wards would collapse. On the Lakefront, where Jewish and liberal voters predominate, Emanuel won by a solid 68,180-12,821, and he won the Hispanic wards 22,774-20,366.
The outlook: The presumption is that Fioretti will defer to Lewis and that Lewis will defer to Preckwinkle. They have the same fund-raising base, and they appeal to the same political base: minorities, unions and the University of Chicago intelligentsia. If all three ran, Emanuel surely would be kept under 50 percent of the vote and would face an April runoff against Preckwinkle. It would be a nasty, negative campaign, but most of the non-Emanuel voters would gravitate to Preckwinkle in the runoff, and turnout among black voters would be huge.
Only if Preckwinkle opts out and Emanuel faces either Lewis or Fioretti in a one-on-one race might he win — barely.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.