It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Rahm Emanuel. The reasons go beyond the fact that he’s an arrogant, North Shore jerk who is out-of-touch with the realities facing most working class families in Chicago. But that’s a story for another day.
Thus far, I haven’t said too much about who I prefer to be Mayor of Chicago. Last week, I was interviewed on WGN Radio about The Chicago Ambassador and ultimately the host got a little off-subject and asked me about the race. I said then that while I do not like Emanuel, I was not sold on Garcia yet. That was then, this is now.
I’ve been leaning towards the “anyone but Rahm” candidacy for a long time, but there was something holding me back from coming out for Garcia. That something was made clear last Friday and again Monday night. The first was the long-promised financial plan that was to be released by Garcia. Well, his so-called plan was very disappointing, lacking on any real specifics. On his two largest campaign promises — ending the red-light camera program and adding 1,000 new police officers — Garcia did not and still has not explained how he’ll cover the lack of revenue that the tickets bring in and how he’ll pay for the new coppers.
The second opportunity for Garcia to explain himself and make a case for his campaign came Monday, in a televised debate with Emanuel. If you didn’t watch it, it was really over very quickly. The first question from moderator Carol Marin was “Will Chicago be able to write a check for the mandatory $550 million payment to the police and fire pension funds?” The first words out of Garcia’s mouth in response was “It depends.”
“It depends?” Really? This was not a candidate being honest. This was a candidate being unprepared and not ready for prime-time. I watched the rest of the debate and kept waiting for something from Garcia, but he kept coming back with nothing. The reason is simple, the man has nothing to offer.
Last month, I was really happy that the primary ended in a runoff when Emanuel failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote. I was happy because, as first stated by Chicago Ambassador columnist Mike Lopez, I thought when narrowed down to two candidates, it would force a debate on real issues besides the “I’m not Rahm” platform the primary challengers ran on. Well, it hasn’t, because Garcia has no plan and is lacking one of the key traits needed to run an international city such as Chicago: being assertive. Love or hate Emanuel, no one can make a case that he isn’t assertive. And as far as being a jerk, he is. But I rather have a jerk with a plan than a nice guy who is clueless.
It’s really too bad, because this race proved one thing: that Emanuel is beatable. I still am not a fan of a lot of what Emanuel has done. I do not think casinos are an answer to the city’s financial woes; his handling of the school closings was without tact at best and shameful at worst; I am against the Lucas Museum coming to lakeshore property which should be off-limits to any and all development; I think park land should not be used for the Obama Presidential library; I think while the homicide numbers are down (and they are), there are questions as to some of them being reclassified as causes of death other than homicides that should be investigated.
Despite the fact that Garcia has proved to be a lousy candidate, there are some positives coming from this race. I think it’s a good sign that people are voting for who they think is the best candidate rather than voting for someone merely because that candidate is or is not from a certain ethnic background. Years ago, a relative of mine once told me that she voted for every judge with an Italian surname. I thought that was idiotic, but knew it wasn’t uncommon.
Last week I was talking to an older gentleman who once was a higher-up in the Richard J. Daley camp. He’s been involved in Chicago politics for about 50 years. I asked him his thoughts on the current race and he said he expected Garcia to get all of the African-American vote because of recent endorsements from Jesse Jackson and primary candidate Willie Wilson. He gave me an example of why he believed that, which I think is outdated. He said that when Harold Washington ran, he pulled a few votes in every ward, even the heavily white wards on the Southwest and Northwest Sides. Conversely, in the wards with heavy black populations, the white candidates against Washington (Richard M. Daley and Jane Byrne), received no black votes. I don’t know how accurate his stats are, but it doesn’t matter. The fact is, this type of voting is still prevalent with some (why do you think a lot of Irish-American candidates are slated? Or, why do you think in the 11th Ward race for Alderman, it’s not an accident that Patrick Thompson has emphasized the fact that he is Patrick “Daley” Thompson?). But this behavior is not the reality of the majority of voters in Chicago in 2015.
Early on in this mayoral race, City Clerk Susana Mendoza came out in support of Emanuel. Frankly, I was a little disappointed and a lot puzzled, more so because of her alleged “independence” that she wore like a medal than the fact that she is also Latino. Looking back now, perhaps she knew something about Garcia that I didn’t. One thing that’s for sure in my mind is that Susana Mendoza will not support someone merely because they share an ethnic background with her, which is perhaps more of a sign of her true independence than if she had supported Garcia against Emanuel merely because he was not Rahm. (For her response, click here.)
Talking to other Latino friends, the majority said they are with Emanuel. Same is true for the African-Americans I polled in my own unscientific way. So, the fact is, despite a lot of the tired clichés the media perpetuates, people are by themselves in the voting booth and do not automatically vote for a candidate just because he or she is Latino or Irish or whatever. Regardless of whether I agree with who they or anyone else is voting for, at least they are voting for the person for a good reason. So, that is a sign of progress for sure.
Perhaps next election a strong alternative to Emanuel will emerge. (Ahem, Susana…) But for this election, looking at the two candidates, I have to give my support to Rahm Emanuel.
Bob Chiarito is a Chicago-American and managing editor of The Chicago Ambassador.