Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to knock on doors throughout Chicago for our mayoral and aldermanic candidates. What stood out in almost every conversation I had was the length and breadth of disappointment with the policies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel from voters.
The response I heard most frequently on the doors was, in one form or the other: "Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us."
Mostly, people felt they had been fooled by Rahm.
Along with our allies in United Working Families (UWF) and Grassroots Illinois Action (GIA), our over 4,000 volunteers knocked on over 150,000 doors and spoke to hundreds of thousands of voters -- we mailed to over 100,000 households and called over 70,000 voters (1,2).
The dissatisfaction with the mayor and his policies and those of his rubber-stamp aldermen was fully revealed on Election Day when Jesus "Chuy" Garcia defied all the polls and ended with 34 percent of the vote, almost double what most polls were predicting (3). The election forced the mayor into a runoff -- along with many aldermen previously assumed to be "safe" -- a ringing denunciation of both the mayor and his policies and of his aldermanic allies.
From the epidemic of violence with over 10,000 shootings since Emanuel took office (4) and an intolerable murder rate, to the closing of 50 schools in African-American and Latino neighborhoods (5) and the closing of mental health clinics across the city (6), to his widespread privatization policies that eliminated thousands of living wage jobs and his TIF (tax increment financing) subsidies (7) to his well-heeled donors, the mayor is backing policies that inflict pain on working Chicagoans.
On pensions and bank swaps, the mayor continues to reward his banking buddies, the same bankers who drove public pensions into the ground during the financial crisis -- among them newly-elected Governor, Bruce Rauner, who in his previous career as venture capitalist helped the mayor become a millionaire by engaging in similar financial trickery.
Despite his $15 million war chest, most of it coming from huge donations from the corporate elite, and his public pulpit by virtue of being mayor, the voters are seeing that the Emperor is quickly losing his clothes.
Chuy's victory and forcing the mayor into a runoff was a surprise to the political pundits, however, it was not a surprise to those of us who marshaled a grassroots field organization for Chuy. Nor was it a surprise that Chuy Garcia outperformed almost every pollster's prediction on Election Day. It was a result of people over big money!
Downtown Chicago is a gleaming "city on the hill," yet the neighborhoods are littered with vacant school buildings and failing charter schools. Voters took note that the mayor, though taking credit for a $13 city minimum wage, at first offered only $9.25 per hour (8) until he was forced to raise it to $13 by the Raise Chicago community-labor coalition. Voters were also responding to the lack of affordable housing and Mayor's pathetic low- and moderate-income housing policy, while at the same time continuing to finance his favorite downtown projects.
Despite sometimes being criticized for electing strong, iron-fisted "machine" mayors, there have been times when Chicago voters have turned their backs to the "machine" to support someone from the neighborhoods who is for the people. They did it by voting for Jane Byrne in 1979 and for Harold Washington in 1983 and 1987. The movement leading up to the February 24th primary that forced a runoff election for mayor is an indication that they are primed to do it again.
This time, voters have a clear choice: Vote for an abrasive, out-of-touch mayor propped up by many millions in commercials, financed by corporate support, or vote for a candidate who represents working Chicagoans in all of the city's neighborhoods -- Chuy Garcia.
Chuy Garcia is a political progressive, and a former community organizer and leader in the Harold Washington movement who knows how to build coalitions. He's also a "neighborhood guy" who supports a real minimum wage of $15 an hour. He is for adequately resourced public schools and believes that the corporate elite, who enjoy so much of our city's largesse, should pay their fair share to bring in badly needed revenue. And he believes that the mayor's job is to take an active part in stopping the violence in our communities.
On April 7th, Chicagoans will have a clear choice: Vote for the status quo, favoring the corporations and the wealthy, or VOTE FOR CHANGE for Our Chicago.
It's looking like on April 7th Chicagoans will not be fooled again.
1) SEIU Healthcare Illinois
2) In These Times, March 5, 12015, "How Chicago's Grassroots Movement Defeated Rahm Emanuel at the Polls"
3) Chicago Tribune election center
4) Chicago Tribune
5) Chicago Sun Times, "Emanuel unveils second term education agenda, confronts school closings."
6) Chicago Tribune, Aug. 19, 2014, "Council to hold hearings on closing of city mental health clinics."
7) Chicago Reader, July 18, 2012, "The Shrinking slush fund."
8) Chicago Reader, Dec. 4, 2014, "Rahm Emanuel's evolving position on the minimum wage."