I have lived in Chicago all my life. I love this city; I believe we are second to no other city in America. There is a certain way of being that comes with living in Chicago. We love our sports, Oprah and our politics. Some outside of our city can't understand the political machine that moves our city forward. It's not pretty but it is effective. My first Mayor was Jane Byrne; she was a pre-Hillary type, tough and fearless but lacking the political instincts that Hillary Clinton came to possess. My second and Chicago's most beloved mayor of all was Harold Washington. He was a gregarious figure, whose charm and pristine political dogma would have allowed him to be the mayor of Chicago for twenty years as he proclaimed but that unfulfilled hope was not meant to be. We were then handed however briefly Timothy Evans and Eugene Sawyer. We tend to look at those two like we do Michael Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards; it never happened. And then we had Mayor Richard M. Daley. There is a lot to be said for the son of Richard J. Daley, but for the majority of my life he has been my mayor and he has done an honorable job. Much like a father who loves his children but is never warm and not particularly kind, there has never been any doubt in my mind that he cared a great deal for this city. As he steps away we have been left with more choices than we actually care to have. But the two dominant figures that loom large in this race are former Senator Carol Moseley- Braun and former Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel.
Since the announcement of Mayor Daley's retirement we have had more candidates than we can shake a stick at. Some worthy of consideration, some just plain old political hacks whose visions of grandeur is only trumped by their blind ambition, which when contemplated is beyond astounding. We are left with two (though, I have been impressed by the decency and competency of Gery Chico, who has run an intelligent campaign). I sat in on some early high-level meetings before Mosley-Braun was the "consensus" candidate. The group seemingly had no second thought about evoking Harold Washington in comparison to the candidate whose first criteria was simply to be African American.
From the very beginning, the Mosley-Braun campaign has been plagued by being underfunded, ill-defined, and lacking a coherent message -- and, not to mention, the candidate has demonstrated a lack of discipline. Her temperament for the job has been questioned by many and rightfully so. Her gaffes over the last few weeks have been "youtubed" to death. Seemingly, the strategy to introduce or reintroduce Mosley-Braun (who has been absent from local politics for the last 15 years) to the Obama "voters" who are not familiar with her has largely proved ineffective. These "Obama" voters (ages 18 - 26) are not familiar with Braun's public life or her brief Senate stint largely because most of them were in early grade school when she was elected. Mosley-Braun, the first African American elected to the office from Illinois, came into the Senate with great promise and in a perfect world should have died in that seat a la Ted Kennedy. But she stumbled halfway through her term and was ousted in 1998. Ironically, she was the only Democratic incumbent to lose that year in the Senate (however, in a bit of serendipity, a young State Senator with hope would claim this seat in 2004 and the rest is change we can believe in; but I digress). She proved then what we know now; she lacks the administrative acumen to run an effective campaign.
Rahm Emanuel has largely stayed above the fray. Emanuel has been out meeting voters, providing substantive answers to the city's most pressing issues (full disclosure: my younger brother volunteers for the campaign). It has been lost on no one that the Emanuel campaign has been terribly well funded, which has allowed him the visibility that the other candidates only dream about. Emanuel hasn't been out engaging in character assassination against his opponents. His energy on the campaign trail has been unmatched. The media has scrutinized his "temper" and he's the first to admit that he's no "angel." But a volatile personality alone will not deal with the budget crisis, it won't bring economic relief to struggling families, and it won't make our schools any safer. Having worked for two presidents and having run successful campaigns for Congress, Emanuel has demonstrated a proven track record of being effective in his former jobs.
Emanuel will be a "quasi-outsider" with regard to the current city council (Mayor Daley has appointed many of them to their positions). That is not a problem in and of itself; he can be independent and bring in bold, fresh ideas to the city council. Emanuel will have some challenges, not just the budget alone but a public education system that has lacked competent and progressive leadership, and the challenge of building a coalition of citizen leadership to help secure our neighborhoods. Our city needs leadership that will specifically address the problems in our inner city where black and brown people are disproportionately disadvantaged.
Emanuel can provide the kind of honesty that Chicagoans can appreciate and will grow to love as he transforms the city into the best in America. Chicagoans have a choice to make: do we allow negativity, backroom deals and political naiveté to guide our politics or do we vote for a proven track record, bold ideas, and comprehensive plans to address the issues that we most care about? I think the choice is clear.
Follow Patrick D. Shaffer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/patrickdshaffer