How Rahm Emanuel won

How was it that Rahm Emanuel was re-elected mayor of Chicago when he did so many unpopular things?   Such as:

  • Awarding no-bid contracts to big campaign donors.
  • Closing and privatizing public schools, almost exclusively in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  • Shortening red light camera intervals to bring in more revenue in traffic fines.
  • Stonewalling on police abuses, up to and including torture.
  • Politically allying with Gov. Bruce Baumer, whose aim is to make Illinois a right-to-work state.

cyrusinner+001aEmanuel was so close to Chicago’s financial elite he is nicknamed “Mayor One Percent.”  So how did he win re-election, with the support of Chicago’s black wards and poorest voters?

I read two good articles this morning about the Chicago election, one on Naked Capitalism and the other on the Black Agenda Report.  This post is based on those articles.

Emanuel’s victory was not just because of his money advantage and his support by the press.   This was a given, and could have been overcome.

It was because black politicians, from President Obama on down, threw their support to Emanuel, and because his opponent Chuy Garcia, the Cook County commissioner, didn’t really attack the corrupt established system in a meaningful way.

Garcia could have made a strong effort to register voters in black neighborhoods, and aggressively campaign against gentrification, austerity and police abuses, but he didn’t.   His only jobs program was to hire 1,000 more police.

Things would have been different if Emanuel’s opponent had been Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Association, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

rahm.emanuelShe led a widely supported and popular teachers’ strike against Emanuel in 2012, protesting the closing of private schools and firing of experienced and respected teachers.

Emanuel invited her to lunch early in his administration and told her he wasn’t going to put any more money into the public schools because a quarter of the students weren’t worth educating anyway.   She went public with that remark, which an establishment politician would not have done.

The country needs more Democrats and more labor leaders like her.

Progressives, civil rights advocates and labor unions need to target right-wing Democrats such as Rahm Emanuel and Andrew Cuomo, in the same way that the Tea Party targets moderate Republicans.

The Republican leadership long ago turned against minorities and wage-earners.   The only leverage they have is within the Democratic Party, which can’t win without their support.  But if Democratic politicians don’t have to do anything to win their support, except be the lesser evil and sometimes not even that, then progressive change will never take place in this country.


Chicago Mayoral Race: “Rahm, They Tell Me You Are Crooked, and I Answer: Yes, It Is True.  Period.” by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.

Blame the Black Political Class For Re-Electing Obama’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

A closer look at Rahm Emanuel’s record of reform by Curtis Black of the Chicago Reporter.

Questions About Chuy by Tyler Zimmer for Jacobin.

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