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Chicago’s elections: Rejecting Rahm and police terror

Análisis by Joe Iosbaker |
March 3, 2019
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Jazmine Salas (left), Jeanette Taylor (Center), and Carlos Rosa.
Jazmine Salas of the Alliance (left); Jeanette Taylor (Center), candidate for alderman of the 20th Ward; and Carlos Rosa. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Chicago, IL - This week, Chicago saw elections for mayor and city council in which almost all the candidates ran on platforms opposing outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Progressive victories were won in a number of wards across the city, including by Maria Hadden, a young, Black, queer woman who unseated Joe Moore in the far Northside Rogers Park neighborhood. Moore had been a progressive 25 years ago but is now a staunch ally of the mayor and a defender of big money developers. Hadden was recently a board member of Black Youth Project 100, and hers was a major win for progressives in the first round of elections.

The other big victory on Tuesday was the reelection of Carlos Ramirez Rosa. Targeted for defeat by the allies of mayor, Rosa has been the lone militant voice in the council since his election in 2015. He championed the issue of police accountability, which he highlighted one week before election day in a video he posted online, appealing for community activists to rally in his defense.

“I’m proud of the work our movement has accomplished over the past several years, fighting for community control of the police and a civilian police accountability council (CPAC). Our movement is growing in strength. Big developers, Rahm Emanuel supporters, are spending tens of thousands of dollars in a bid to unseat me,” said Rosa

His appeal worked: Rosa won comfortably, with 60% of the vote.

McCarthy, Alvarez, Emanuel: Three down

Just before Thanksgiving 2015, Rahm Emanuel was exposed for covering up the brutal police killing of Laquan McDonald. Having been elected that spring largely on the vote of Chicago’s Black community, Rahm’s approval ratings descended into single digits following the public broadcast of the video of racist cop Jason Van Dyke shooting the unarmed McDonald 16 times. There were weeks of protests with thousands of people calling for Rahm to resign. He threw his police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, under the bus, firing him after the video came out; and then voters turned against Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who was soundly defeated in her bid for another term. After her loss, protesters chanted, “Two down, one to go!”

Over the next year, the corporate media and mainstream Democratic Party officials proclaimed that Rahm had been rehabilitated. He began amassing a war chest for his 2019 reelection bid. Then the day before Van Dyke’s trial was to begin, Rahm announced that he was not going to run. Three down.

Affordable housing, public education and police accountability

Even before Rahm’s announcement, a surge of young activists, mainly Black and Latino, were already preparing to get on the ballot to run for city council. Many of them had cut their teeth fighting against gentrification and Rahm’s corrupt use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts; supporting the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU); or organizing and leading the Black Lives Matter protests that began in 2014.

Then, after Rahm’s withdrawal, 14 people, none of whom are truly reformers, filled up the ballot for mayor. The result of the election is an historic first: the two remaining candidates are Black women. Lori Lightfoot, a former head of the Chicago Police Board, came out one percent ahead of Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board. Lightfoot was aided by an endorsement from the Chicago Sun Times, which referred to her as “progressive.”

However, Jazmine Salas, co-chair of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, wrote on Twitter the day before the election, “Lori Lightfoot is not a progressive!” and repeated the line multiple times in the tweet. The movement resisting police terror in the city remembers Lightfoot’s role on the Police Board, providing cover for the killer cops who murdered Rekia Boyd and “Ronnieman” Johnson.

For the Chicago Teachers Union, which endorsed Preckwinkle, this first round of the mayoral election was a victory because all those who favored the privatization of public education were defeated, including Paul Vallas, Gerry Chico and Bill Daley.

Excitement for April 2 runoff

In the election night watch parties, and on social media, the excitement in the movement was all about the races for city council. Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a well-known community activist, posted on Facebook Tuesday night, “Chicago! We just made history!! Elders, correct me if I’m wrong, but this must be the biggest sweep of openly left movement candidates ever in this city, or at least in recent history, right?” He pointed to the fact that Jeanette Taylor in the 20th Ward, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez in the 33rd Ward, and Byron Sigcho-Lopez in the 25th Ward all had the most votes in their respective races. In Chicago, election law states that if a candidate does not win at least 50% of the vote in a mayoral or city council race, the top two vote-getters battle it out in a runoff. Taylor, Rodriguez Sanchez and Sigcho-Lopez seem to be the favorites for April 2 victories.

Salas summed up the results for the campaign for a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), stating, “11 CPAC supporters won outright for city council seats; 14 CPAC supporters are in runoffs, and two wards have runoffs between two CPAC supporters. This means the new city council will have at least 13 members committed to CPAC and possibly 23.”

Frank Chapman of the Alliance commented, “This is definitely a progressive change in the political realignment of Chicago driven by our movement. There were movement people, CPAC people, working in the elections all over Chicago. We made an impact. Now let us quickly measure that impact, sum up what we have accomplished, and triumphantly continue to make progress.

“Our struggle, as we have proven in these elections, is much more than the figment of someone's imagination, a sacredly guarded utopian dream. Our struggle engages our people in the dirt and blood of political battles that must be fought to advance the struggle for our freedom.”