‘Rahm Rejection’ was epidemic in city voting
by RUSS STEWART
"Not Rahm." "Anybody But Rahm." "Any Alderman Who Is Not A Stooge For Rahm." Those were the clear victors in the Feb. 24 municipal election.
Chicago’s heretofore esteemed mayor, Rahm Emanuel, has been absolutely, totally, completely humiliated. His gargantuan ego has shriveled. The scope and size of his rejection is breathtaking.
Chicago has 1,421,430 registered voters and a population of 2,695,598. On Feb. 24 in the nonpartisan mayoral election, 472,126 people voted. The mayor, against four lackluster, underfunded opponents — Chuy Garcia, Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson and Dock Walls — managed to garner 214,988 votes (45.5 percent of the total cast), after having spent almost $30 million. His combined opponents’ vote was 257,158, 42,170 more than his vote.
Consider the enormity of Emanuel’s rejection: 79.9 percent of Chicago’s eligible voters either didn’t vote or didn’t vote for him. However, all is not yet lost for the mayor. He has a month, and the money, to make his April 7 runoff opponent, Garcia, a loser, and he will.
For Emanuel, however, the Feb. 24 outcome makes it reality check time. The cold, hard truth is that Emanuel is unlikable, unlovable and not trustworthy. If, as in Nevada, "None of the Above" had been on the ballot, it would have won. If Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had been on the ballot, she would be in the runoff and she would have gotten more votes than Emanuel. The mayor finished first only because he got half of the black vote, and he got that because he gave millions of dollars in campaign funds to black Democratic ward committeemen, who spread the money around their wards.
In 2011, in a turnout of 588,956, Emanuel got 325,496 votes (55.3 percent of the total), winning a six-candidate contest. In 2015, in a turnout of 472,126 (more than 100,000 votes less than in 2011), Emanuel got more than 110,000 fewer votes. How pathetic.
In 2011, the turnout in Chicago’s 20 black-majority wards was under 300,000, and Emanuel got about half the black vote against three black contenders (Carol Moseley Braun, Dock Walls and Patricia Van Pelt Watkins). On Feb. 24, against black contenders Wilson and Walls, and with the wealthy Wilson spending more than $2 million, turnout in the black wards was under 200,000 and Emanuel got half the vote in just one black-majority ward (the 2nd), 40 to 45 percent in 13 other wards, and less than 40 percent in three West Side wards. A juggernaut he is not.
Elsewhere, the mayor’s numbers were equally anemic. Only in the Lakefront/Gold Coast/Lincoln Park 42nd and 43rd wards did the mayor eclipse 70 percent; he got in the low 50s along the North Lakefront.
On the Southwest Side, where the heft of white committeemen used to be legendary, Emanuel won outright only Mike Madigan’s 13th Ward, got a plurality (near 50 percent) in the Bridgeport 11th Ward, and barely topped 40 percent in the 19th and 23rd wards.
On the Northwest Side, where every white Democratic committeeman except Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th) supported him and where he bombarded households with anti-Garcia and anti-Fioretti mailers, Emanuel was about as popular as a case of persistent halitosis. Every alderman who had any verifiable tie to Emanuel, who voted with the mayor on more than 90 percent of the City Council ordinances, was punished, and some were or will be defeated.
In the Far Northwest Side 41st Ward, where the pro-Emanuel first-term Alderman Mary O’Connor is the Democratic committeeman, Emanuel got 8,565 votes (42.3 percent of the total) in 2011, while Gery Chico won the mostly white ward with 49.9 percent of the vote. On Feb. 24 Emanuel got 7,090 votes (47.8 percent of the total), and his council loyalist, O’Connor, was blindsided in the aldermanic race, getting 7,067 votes (47.7 percent of the total) and being forced into an April 7 runoff. Firefighter Anthony Napolitano got 6,317 votes and Joe Lomanto got 1,444 votes, a combined 694 more votes than the incumbent. In fact, the Emanuel and O’Connor vote was almost identical.
O’Connor will face Napolitano in the runoff, and she has real problems. Napolitano’s path to victory is clear: keep tying O’Connor to the mayor, keep criticizing the level of city services, keep the race focused on Emanuel, and keep promising to be an "independent."
O’Connor’s prospects for a second term are fast approaching zero. She’s had 4 years to "sell" herself, and now finds herself having been "sold" as a flunky of the mayor.
In the 45th Ward, flunkiness was not an issue. Emanuel won the ward in 2011 with 51.2 percent of the vote; on Feb. 24 he got 48.1 percent. He received a stunning 2,020 fewer votes in 2015 than in 2011. In a ward containing 31,191 registered voters, of whom 12,293 cast a ballot on Feb. 24, that’s a seismic shift.
First-term Alderman John Arena has the most anti-Emanuel voting record of any alderman. In the southern areas of the ward, especially Portage Park, being an anti-Emanuel "independent" was solid gold, and the anti-Emanuel public sector unions (especially the Service Employee International Union’s political action committee) deluged the ward with pro-Arena mailers. By Feb. 24, ward households had been inundated with more than 40 mailers from Arena, John Garrido, Michelle Baert and Mike Diaz and their backers.
However, despite more than $200,000 in political action committee independent expenditures, Arena couldn’t get 50 percent of the vote. He beat Garrido in a runoff in 2011 6,083-6,053. For Arena, that’s beyond worrisome. An Arena-Garrido runoff is a worst scenario for the incumbent. Turnout will be low, only the most motivated will vote, and as many people like as detest Arena.
On April 7, Emanuel will not be a factor, even though he will be on the ballot. Neither Arena nor Garrido will be a mayoral sycophant in the City Council, so it’s a clear referendum on Arena. The incumbent outspent Garrido 3-1 and pulled 5,872 votes (45.5 percent of the total), topping Garrido by 741 votes. Arena’s vote declined by 211 votes from 2011.
Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant, stressed his neighborhood roots and did not endorse anybody in the mayoral election. Arena also was neutral in the mayor’s race, but many of his liberal Portage Park supporters were behind Garcia. Garrido got 5,131 votes (39.7 percent of the total) on Feb. 24, a falloff of 922 votes from 2011. Baert and Diaz amassed a combined 1,920 votes. Who will those voters back? If half don’t vote, Arena wins the runoff. If Garrido gets two-thirds of those votes, he wins. Expect another avalanche of SEIU mailers.
The real stunner was the outcome in the 38th Ward, long dominated by the "Cullerton Clan." In 2011 the City Council changed the ward boundaries, placing incumbents Tim Cullerton (pro-Emanuel) and Nick Sposato (anti-Emanuel) in the new ward. Cullerton retired, and seven candidates sought the seat. The Cullertons supported Heather Sattler, while the SEIU and the unions weighed in for Sposato, with more than a dozen mailers. Also running were Tom Caravette, Jerry Paszek, Carmen Hernandez, Mike Duda and Belinda Cadiz. The presumption was that no candidate would get 50 percent, necessitating a runoff.
Wrong guess. Everybody but Sposato fizzled. The first-term alderman finished with 5,933 votes (53.5 percent of the total), with Sattler a very distant second with 1,796 votes (16.2 percent). Pre-election polling showed resistance to the mayor, and Sposato, a firefighter, was well positioned. Emanuel got 5,348 votes (48.1 percent of the total), well below his 6,651 in the old ward in 2011.
One pro-Emanuel alderman who exceeded expectations was Debra Silverstein in the 50th Ward. She won her second term with 4,975 votes (64.3 percent). Emanuel got 4,341 votes in the ward.
Long-dominant machines took a shellacking in the Northwest Side 37th, 39th, 33rd and 31st wards. Most amazing was the result in the Hispanic-majority 31st Ward, with a huge Puerto Rican population, long run by county Assessor Joe Berrios. His ally, Ray Suarez, has been in the City Council since 1991, and he has more than $1.2 million in his campaign account. Suarez limped into a runoff with Milagros Santiago; their vote totals were 2,748 (47.5 percent) and 2,130 (37.2 percent), respectively. This is the second blow to the Berrios machine in 2 years, as his daughter lost the 2014 primary for state representative to Will Guzzardi. If Suarez loses, the blow to the credibility of Berrios, who after all is the county Democratic Party chairman, will be severe.
Berrios also suffered a mini-debacle in the new 36th Ward, where he backed Omar Aquino, the son of Suarez’s best friend; his chief competitor was Gil Villegas, who is allied with Berrios’ archrival, state Representative Luis Arroyo. Villegas was endorsed by Sposato and Guzzardi, and he promises to be an independent. Also running were Alonso Zaragoza and Chris Vittorio. Aquino finished first with 2,110 votes (35.7 percent of the total), to 1,931 (32.6 percent) for Villegas. Emanuel got just 2,351 votes (39.2 percent). Expect Garcia to beat Emanuel in the ward, and that will aid Villegas.
Dick Mell discovered that power is not easily transferable. After he anointed daughter Deb Mell as his aldermanic successor in 2012, she compiled a 100 percent pro-Emanuel record. The unions took a shot at her this year, backing teacher Tim Meegan. The latest vote had Mell with 4,037 votes (50.03 percent of the total), two votes above 50 percent. Meegan had 2,754 votes and Annisa Wanat had 1,278 votes. The Mell machine is rapidly fading.
Likewise in the 39th Ward, which has had a Laurino as the alderman for the past 50 years. Alderman Marge Laurino votes with Rahm on everything. In 2011 Laurino got 7,735 votes (76.4 percent of the total cast), while on Feb. 24 she got 5,915 votes (53.1 percent), while Emanuel received 5,432 votes. Clearly, the voters are getting restless.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.