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Emanuel suffers primary blow in Chicago election

By Joe Iosbaker |
March 3, 2015
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Chicago, IL - In Chicago, people had good reason to celebrate on Feb. 24. Rahm Emanuel was denied reelection in the mayoral primary. He needed 50% plus one vote, but he received less than 46%. His main opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, received 34%, and will face Emanuel on April 7 in a runoff. In addition, 19 city council seats will have runoff elections, an all-time high.

Emanuel had what the corporate-owned media and the LaSalle Street bankers thought was a winning hand. He had raised over $16 million for his campaign. He had the support of President Obama, who Emanuel had served as chief of staff in Obama’s first three years in office. Chicago is the president’s home and his endorsement had helped put Emanuel in office in 2011.

What happened? For starters, Emanuel has always had a difficult time connecting with regular people, given his elite upbringing and abrasive personality. But he had the benefit of the doubt among African American voters in his first campaign because of Obama’s endorsement.

For the masses of people, Chicago is a community in crisis. Unemployment remains high: 25% among African Americans, 12% for Latinos and 7% for whites. The number of home foreclosures has dropped significantly, but poor neighborhoods continue to deal with the effects of the housing crisis. Wages are flat or lower than before the economic crisis in 2008. The assault on workers and the oppressed nationality communities of African Americans, Chicano/Mexicanos and other immigrants and Puerto Ricans has continued unabated.

Also, public sector workers have been the main target of the political attacks on unions in recent years. Nationally, Republicans have been the face of the assault, but this is a bipartisan issue, as they say in Washington. Emanuel, a Democratic mayor, has terrible relations with the labor unions representing his employees. Most famously, he declared war on the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), who rose to defend themselves, and at the same time, to fight for their students. The 2012 strike they waged - and won - set the stage for this electoral contest.

Fight-backs helped raise consciousness among voters

Rosa Luxemburg said, “Those who do not move do not notice their chains.” It’s often when workers resist cutbacks and other austerity measures that they realize they have class interests separate from the government and the employers. The organized movements to resist Emanuel’s agenda unfolded the understanding that he really is Mayor 1%.

The teachers did the heaviest lifting against Emanuel’s agenda. The Chicago Public Schools have been starved for funding for decades. Emanuel’s main campaign pledge in 2011 was to reform education. His program? A longer school day and closing schools where students weren’t performing well on standardized testing. The CTU, in a model of class struggle unionism, took him head on.

There were other anti-Emanuel fronts. His repression of Occupy Chicago and the protests against the NATO war makers was reminiscent of old man Daley’s crackdown on anti-war protests in 1968. The mental health movement captured broad sympathy and solidarity as they defended the clinics that so many people depend on - clinics that Emanuel closed.

Black and brown lives matter

Protests against police crimes started after the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and then exploded when government prosecutors wouldn’t indict the killer cops. Chicago hasn’t had a week without marches and teach-ins since then, and existing efforts to fight for justice were rejuvenated and expanded. Young Black organizers had taken up the fight against police torture even before Ferguson, but since then, the rising tide of protest has advanced the campaign for justice for the victims of Jon Burge, the Chicago cop exposed for running a torture ring that had over 100 Black and Latino victims. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression has been calling for an elected, Civilian Police Accountability Council for several years, but now this idea has been taken up by the groups Black Youth Project 100, We Charge Genocide and Black Lives Matter. And none other than CTU President Karen Lewis herself has come out and endorsed the idea.

Police crimes did not become a front burner issue in the elections. The corporate-owned press didn’t pose questions to mayoral or alderman candidates about it. Some of the reform candidates for alderman, especially in African American wards, as well as the mayoral challengers, addressed themselves to the mass movement. But the repeated protests against Chicago murders of young Blacks by Chicago cops made it even clearer that the city of Chicago doesn’t serve the interests of the Black community.


Karen Lewis had begun to ignite the people’s forces around her when she announced last year that she was preparing to run against Emanuel. A serious health issue changed that plan. When she withdrew, her choice for a champion was Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Garcia has been an activist since the 1970s. He was part of the movement for electoral reform that elected Harold Washington, the first Black mayor in Chicago. That coalition of community forces in the Black, Chicano/Mexicano and Puerto Rican communities ended the white racist rule of the Democratic Party regulars.

Garcia was next elected a state senator. His role in fighting gentrification in the Pilsen neighborhood caused Mayor Richard M. Daley to target him. Daley brought in major resources to defeat Garcia in a reelection campaign in 1998. During the years out of public office, Garcia continued as a community activist. He was an important figure in the massive immigrant rights movement that emerged in 2006. In 2010, he was elected Cook County Commissioner.

Rahm has to go

The runoff elections will be dramatic. Most of the attention will be on Chuy versus Rahm, but the alderman elections will be important as well. The city council under Emanuel has put up even less opposition to his corporate agenda than they did under his predecessor. Garcia will need allies in the city council to go against the agenda of the 1%. The CTU had endorsed a number of candidates, including David Moore, who won the 17th Ward election, and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, winner in the 35th Ward. They also backed CTU members Tara Stamps (37th Ward), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th Ward) and Tim Meegan (33rd Ward). The CTU platform brings these Black, Latino and working class candidates together with Garcia.

Kelly Hayes of the Chicago Light Brigade is an organizer for reparations for survivors of Chicago Police Department torture. In her view, Emanuel’s failure in round one has strengthened the movements that have been fighting him. In a piece on Truthout, she wrote, “Our respective battles have now been met with an unforeseen window of opportunity, as this mayor has never been more vulnerable.”

Her article was posted the morning after the election, and just hours after the latest exposé about police torture and abuse in Chicago. The Guardian of London released an article late on Feb. 24 about a “black site,” a secret interrogation center of the Chicago Police Department, where there is no record of prisoners that can be obtained by lawyers or their families; where arrestees disappear from 12 to 24 to 72 hours; and where there is a growing account of torture, including beatings by police and shackling for prolonged periods. This has unleashed a new storm of controversy, which will raise the prominence in the runoff election for the issue of police crimes, especially against the Black community.

Frank Chapman of the Alliance said, “Emanuel is the block in the road for all the things we the people need in Chicago: money for schools and clinics, an end to police crimes and the end of attacks on our democratic rights more generally. He has to be defeated to open up the possibility of victory on those fronts.”