CHICAGO – One by one, Chicago’s establishment has blessed the re-election of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel — his predecessor, Richard Daley, veteran Rep. Bobby Rush and, this week, President Obama.
Emanuel, who breezed into City Hall four years ago, is leaving nothing to chance in the face of minority-neighborhood opposition and allegations that he’s a mayor for only the privileged.
As a three-term congressman and Obama’s chief of staff, he minded every detail and used all available weapons — most famously in the Democrats’ 2006 takeover of the House. This time it’s for self-preservation.
“People were expecting Barack Obama to come in and endorse Rahm Emanuel, because Rahm Emanuel is in trouble,” William Walls, one of two black challengers, said during a televised debate. Indeed, the president will tout his former deputy’s re-election during a Thursday visit to the mostly black South Side.
The campaign leading to next week’s nonpartisan election has been a debate on inequality, with Emanuel’s four opponents casting him as a one-percenter supported by corporate donors. Those benefactors have poured millions into his campaign.
Emanuel has repeatedly said he’s mayor of all Chicagoans. His campaign spokesman, Steve Mayberry, said the claim of elitism is a “red herring” that does “nothing to advance the conversation of moving this great city forward.”
If Emanuel wins a majority next Tuesday, he would serve a second four-year term starting in May. If he doesn’t, there would be a two-person runoff in April, as well as a debate over the direction of this city of 2.7 million people that’s about 33 percent black.
Emanuel, who won with 55 percent in 2011, presided the following year over the city’s first teacher strike in 25 years. He later closed 50 schools amid a $1 billion deficit in Chicago Public Schools and declining enrollment. It was the largest mass school-closing in the nation, and most were in minority neighborhoods.
“The core part of politics is about leading, it’s not about popularity,” Emanuel said during a Feb. 10 debate.
“Leading requires telling people the truth, the hard truth and doing the necessary things.”
Crime remains a difficult issue even as the city last year recorded the fewest killings since the 1960s. Shootings jumped 12 percent in 2014, most in minority neighborhoods, fueling the perception of disparity with downtown.