A column by Michael Lopez.
Chicago’s 2015 Mayoral Election, when about 32 percent of the city’s registered voters will decide whether or not Mayor Rahm Emanuel is worthy of re-election, happens on Tuesday. Voting for actual challengers is a relatively new concept to those of us who came of age during the Richard M. Daley era. I know I got used to Daley running for re-election against whoever came out to campaign around the city, and subsequently said candidate ending up with jack shit at the polls. Daley never felt heat from anyone, and usually only faced one challenger.
First elected in 1989, Daley’s tenure was on autopilot after the 1995 election when he ceded over 30 percent of the vote to Roland Burris. After that, no Daley challenger ever came that close. Daley crushed all other “challengers,” including Bobby Rush in 1999 who ended up with 28 percent of the vote, Paul Jakes in 2003 with 14 percent, and finally Dorothy Brown in 2007 who garnered 20 percent. They didn’t even seem like elections anymore, rather a reminder of who is boss, and voter turnout spiraled even further downward.
Now, like in February 2011, we get to witness Emanuel acting as if this is an actual race we have on our hands. This time he’s got four challengers looking to unseat him. But don’t these challengers get it? This is Chi-caw-go! We don’t want nobody that nobody sent. Emanuel was practically anointed Daley’s successor in 2011 after being sent by none other than our Commander-in Chief, Barack Obama. And I’ve got a newsflash for you: Until Rahm is summoned back to the national stage, he’s here to stay! Unlike his predecessor, Emanuel hasn’t really made clear his intention for the future. Daley always remained focused on one goal – (no, it wasn’t to fuck us) to be Mayor of the City of Chicago for life. And Mayor was the title he held with an ironclad grip from 1989 until his retirement in 2011.
But I’m not sure these challengers are here by accident. The Mayor’s opponents this year are Alderman Robert Fioretti, 2nd ward since 2007; Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia; William “Dock” Walls, a community activist and perennial candidate for something; and businessman Willie Wilson, a medical supply company executive. It’s entirely possible these men have been placed on the ballot to run but not to actually win. After all, Rahm Emanuel is wearing the Big Belt, he’s the reigning champion, and these four would-be mayors are nothing but tomato cans to him.
These four men comprise a very beatable and uninspiring pool of candidates, just like we saw during the Daley years. Think about that as I ask you this: Is anyone inspired yet? I didn’t think so.
And so, this is how we get mayors elected and re-elected with just between 30 and 35 percent voter turnout. If Emanuel seeks a third term in 2019, I’ll bet he runs practically unchallenged like Daley did. Voters don’t feel the need to vote when the elections turn into coronations. We should call it Apathy Day instead of Election Day.
Rahm Emanuel wants voter apathy. He doesn’t give a shit about your love. He will gladly take the votes (and contributions) because he knows that the registered voters who actually still give a damn about elections will re-elect him. How often have you heard ‘I’ll vote for who I dislike the least?’ I know I’ve said it. And don’t take this wrong, I’m not knocking any of these candidates. They’re all good people whose love for this city I don’t question. So, in this case, it’s not about dislike for the challengers but with whom the people are most familiar or feel can get the job done. And the chief task required for “The Job” is fixing the city’s staggering $37 billion pension liability. But that’s a topic for another day.
What gets to me the most is why are there no “bona fide” challengers who declared their candidacy? Not only this year, but also in 2011. Emanuel was running like an incumbent that year. I guess I would too if I had the support of the Oval Office and the outgoing mayor. With all respect to Gery Chico, he was not a strong a contender, pulling in only 24 percent of the vote in 2011. (Chico has since decided to endorse Emanuel for re-election).
It’s safe to say that one thing an incumbent, or even a pre-ordained, candidate really dislikes is a tough challenger. That’s why this race, like the last one, feels like a setup to me. It’s as if Emanuel is putting on a performance as he stays on point and delivers his lines like a veteran actor. But to Garcia, Wilson, Fioretti and to some extent Walls, it’s a real campaign that they think they can win. However, they all seem to only be running on the “I’m Not Rahm Emanuel” platform. And while that may appeal to some voters, it’s not enough to pull off the upset.
To this day, I still wonder why Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart suddenly bowed out in 2011 and left it to Chico to get trampled. And in this election, why not Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle? Early polls showed she had a shot to send Emanuel packing but she decided against it. Politicians are by nature very competitive, which makes me wonder why neither made a serious run at the office of mayor. We may never really know why. Preckwinkle and Dart might have lost and that’s OK, but they could have presented a legitimate challenge and possibly derailed Emanuel’s plans to walk into the mayor’s office without breaking a sweat. Or at the very least forced a run-off that would’ve cost Emanuel’s campaign money. The mayor doesn’t strike me as the type of man who likes to spend money when he doesn’t need to spend money.
Rahm Emanuel has friends in very high places, i.e., the White House, who can maybe, possibly influence or persuade serious candidates to abruptly lose interest in the office. In short, the incumbent has the capability to have political careers destroyed if he so chooses. And that realization causes fear that has the power to change minds and hearts abruptly without any warning. However, while Emanuel can buy ad space and endorsements, he can’t buy your vote.
If you want a runoff, vote for one of the other candidates on Tuesday. Even if you’re for the Mayor, consider it, since a runoff will buy more time to discuss and dig deeper into the two remaining candidates future plans for the City, instead of just the “I’m not Rahm” platform.
Michael Lopez is a lifelong Chicagoan who currently resides on the South Side.