In Historic Chicago Runoff Election, It’s Grassroots vs. the One Percent
With platforms on opposite ends of the spectrum, Chicago mayoral candidates Rahm Emanuel and Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia face off
By Nadia Prupis
Chicago voters on Tuesday went to the polls to choose between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his populist challenger, Cook County commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, in a runoff mayoral election which has come to symbolize the fight between corporate interests and progressive ideals.
As CNN reports, polls on Tuesday morning showed Emanuel leading by double digit margins, but the unique nature of the election as Chicago’s first-ever runoff makes the outcome hard to predict.
“I’m glad it went to a runoff. I think it’s important that the candidates were forced to have conversations,” one voter, Carlee Taggart, told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There could be a change and that could be a good thing, and if not, at least we forced a conversation.”
Those conversations centered around three core issues of Emanuel and Garcia’s platforms: budget, education, and the future of Chicago’s vastly differing neighborhoods, particularly its under-served black and Hispanic communities.
Emanuel’s extensive financial resources and Washington, D.C. connections—he is a former member of the U.S. Congress and served as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff—has framed him as a corporate-friendly politician with a track record that Chicago-based reporter Rick Perlstein called “strikingly corrupt.” In 2014, journalist Kari Lydersen dubbed him “Mayor One Percent.”
Garcia’s backing comes largely from teacher and labor unions—as well as an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—and his connection to working-class residents of the city has depicted him as a progressive candidate with humble origins and grassroots support.
As the New York Times explains, the winner will depend on whose key messages have struck a more resounding chord with voters: “Mr. Garcia’s stance for ordinary people? Or Mr. Emanuel’s argument that he is the only one qualified to wrestle with Chicago’s fiscal challenges?”
While Emanuel has referred to the election as the “battle for Chicago’s future,” the Times notes that its outcome has significance in the larger playing field of U.S. politics:
There are parallels between the Chicago mayoral race and other fights within the Democratic Party. In his first term, Mr. Emanuel has emerged as a pragmatic, centrist Democrat who has pushed an agenda of education and pension reform while also encouraging major corporate development in the city and accepting large donations from the wealthy. Mr. Garcia has carved out a space even further to the left by saying he would focus on Chicago’s economically depressed neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. He has called Mr. Emanuel a tool of the “rich and powerful.” Mr. Emanuel has been a top aide to President Obama and former President Bill Clinton; Mr. Garcia says he admires Howard Dean and Elizabeth Warren and hopes to follow their example.
Whoever wins could represent the direction of the Democratic Party going forward.
The election is being tracked on Twitter under the hashtag #ChicagoElection2015.
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