There is a touch of irony to the fact that potentially the most divisive candidate, one with apparent issues relating to blacks, Latinos and progressives in general should weld all of them together in a remarkable 55 percent coalition that left the rest of the candidates far in the dust.
There are many obvious reasons—Rahm Emanuel’s celebrity, his overwhelming financial advantage, excellent TV spots, media endorsements, the backing of the president and the popular ex-president, and sympathy for his victimization in a ridiculous, lengthy and expensive effort to throw him off the ballot.
Uninspiring and Under Financed
Most important, he ran against a lackluster field of uninspiring and under financed—if in some cases well-intentioned—candidates. The race really ended months ago when Sheriff Tom Dart, the only potential victor other than Attorney General Lisa Madigan, announced he would not run. Then, the self-inflicted collapse of Carol Moseley Braun in the black community assured there would not even be a runoff.
The turnout of 42 percent was pitiful—even the original projection of 50 percent would not have been thrilling—and some purveyors of conventional wisdom suggest that’s why he won so handily on the first round. The theory is that low turnout favors the machine candidate—but second-placer Gery Chico was backed by the legendary, all-powerful Southwest Side machine. On the lakefront Emanuel was viewed as an independent and scored in the mid-70s in wards all the way from the Loop to Evanston. He won every ward but one on the North and Northwest Sides.
My view, based in some serious part on Richard Day’s polling for Channel 7, is that even a turnout of 55 percent would not have shifted the numbers significantly—certainly not enough to force a runoff. Day’s poll had Emanuel at 54 percent weeks before the election when no one had any idea about turnout. The Tribune poll during the same period had him at 49 percent. Both polls were within the margins of error of each other. The consistency of the returns from the first handful to the rapid ending is another factor.
A Rainbow Coalition
Emanuel got about 60-plus percent of the white vote and nearly 59 percent of the African American vote. He got close to the same number of votes Chico received in the Latino wards—though those were split between Chico and Miguel del Valle, who was the most progressive but least incisive candidate. Emanuel won one North Side Latino ward outright and got a winning plurality in four others while Chico carried the five Southwest Side Latino wards.
African American wards, with a few exceptions, turned out just under the citywide average while most Latino wards were substantially below average—as usual. My best estimate is that Latinos cast only 10 percent of the city’s total—I predicted 10-12 percent—though they allegedly have 15-18 percent of total registration (and close to 30 percent of overall population).
The heaviest turnout—50 percent and more—was in the white Southwest Side wards and one Northwest Side ward, all heavily populated with city workers, many Latinos. Chico carried them all. The fact that Chico carried the wards with the largest (as well as the smallest) turnout is another indicator that a larger citywide turnout would not change the overall percentages that much.
African American voters abandoned Braun in droves, but did give Patricia Horton, who is black, about 60 percent of their votes against Susana Mendoza running for clerk. Even though that’s a relatively low percentage for an African American in such circumstances, it would have given Braun enough to force a runoff, though she would never have survived a head-to-head contest with Emanuel—nor would Chico. The 40 percent black vote for Mendoza, a far superior choice, was actually a triumph for reform over ethnocentrism. Citywide she received a remarkable 60 percent.
The shifting patterns among African American voters here, along with the inability of community “leaders” to come up with a serious “consensus” candidate, are worthy of further socio-political study. In some of my talks I have noted the shifts reflect much of what Eugene Robinson discusses in his excellent new book “Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America.”
The City Council Returns
The aldermanic election results are underwhelming for the most part, returning 31 incumbents and 5 newbies who filled vacancies. It is notable, however, that almost all of the independent-voting reformers, including Pat Dowell (3), Leslie Hairston (5), Sandi Jackson (7), Ric Munoz (22), Scott Waguespack (32) and Joe Moore (49) were returned to office handily—despite, as in Waguespack’s case, brutal opposition from the machine committeeman. Bob Fioretti (2), who often votes reform, also won.
The 47th ward resulted in the most remarkable upset, as every medium has noted, giving the city its first Asian alderman, Ameya Pawar. The Indian candidate came out of nowhere to edge out ward boss Gene Schulter’s choice and is likely to be in the reform mold. Of four other new aldermen, Will Burns (4) replaces Toni Preckwinkle and may be even more reform minded than she was. So to a large degree will be Harry Osterman (48). Two Southwest Siders are simply replacement cogs in the area’s machine.
There are runoffs in 14 wards, 8 of which involve regular-voting incumbents very likely to be returned to office because they received 44 percent or more of the vote, which historically proves to be nearly impossible to overcome in a runoff—but miracles happen occasionally.
Bernie Stone’s Last Stand?
In the 50th, the crusty old hack Bernie Stone got only 37 percent and may fall to Debra Silverstein, who finished 3 points behind. But she is simply likely to be a younger, female old hack.
In the 45th, a white ethnic ward that often votes against the regular machine candidates, two independents wiped out the machine’s pick. John Arena, who finished 10 points behind John Garrido’s 32.5 percent, could possibly overcome him and would be an improvement. Neither candidate in the 41st ward, one of the most right-wing in the city, promises to be an improvement over the Republican hack who retired.
The Best of Bad Choices
In one weird situation, incumbent Sharon Dixon (24) faces Michael Chandler, the incumbent she defeated four years ago. She finished first with only 19.5 percent. It’s a tossup, but although she never lived up to her promise as a progressive reformer, she is still preferable to Chandler.
The other weird situation is in the 46th ward where 11 candidates were trying to replace retiring former reformer Helen Shiller. The respected frontrunner Emily Stewart finished out of the money and two surprise winners came up with an almost equal number of votes, both just under 20 percent. Molly Phelan is probably preferable to James Cappelman, but neither gives promises of being either brilliant or a disaster.
Smith in the 43rd
Which brings me to my home ward, the 43rd, where the independent progressive Michele Smith, who is ward committeemen, finished about 1300 votes ahead of Tim Egan, the candidate supported by the Irish mafia of the Southwest Side. He and Chico endorsed each other. My strong endorsement goes to Smith who runs an open Democratic organization.
She broke with most other committeemen to endorse independent Forrest Claypool for assessor against the abominable party chairman Joe Berrios. As a result the old boys want to punish her and will throw every spare patronage worker from all over town into the ward to defeat her. That shouldn’t be permitted to happen.
In sum, I am not expecting fireworks from a new and different city council. It may not be the total rubber stamp that previous councils were under the Daleys, but I do not see any but a handful out to stymie Emanuel. Since we don’t really know what Emanuel’s “reform agenda” is, we don’t know what alternatives may emerge. We do know Emanuel is a pretty good negotiator, so I expect him to win over most newbies.
He is soon to make some compromise with his tormentor, Ed Burke (14). Emanuel doesn’t want to look overly vnicitive, so the compromise will likely involve only one Burkean testicle. The way Emanuel handles it will give us a clue to the future.
The council elected four years ago seemed to have more promise as a legislative body but a full-scale reform bloc never emerged and stuck together. Thus the city continued to sink deeper into the financial hole without solving the misery in our schools and the streets of minority communities. Something happens to these guys and women when they become Chicago aldermen—they begin to behave like Chicago aldermen.