It would appear that John Kass' favorite mayor has decided to take his ten million dollar slush fund and stay home on Election Day. I'm sure this is sending ripples of distress running through the minds of every Republican ward committeeman in the city, each of whose mouths were watering at the prospect of running against Rahm Emmanuel. My reaction, however, is more surprise than shock.
Looking at things realistically, Mayor Emmanuel was dealt a losing hand right from the beginning. His predecessor in City Hall, the unlamented Richard M. Daley, ran the city of Chicago as if someone had lent him a credit card with no limits on it. And yet, somehow, he managed to find a way to exceed that limit. So that when it came time to turn over the reins of power to his successor, about all poor Rahm could do was make the minimum payments on it, thus keeping the city underwater, drowning in an ocean of red ink. Under the circumstances, who can blame him for quitting?
Of course, the city's poor financial condition wasn't the only dark cloud on the Emmanuel horizon. For instance, there's a public school system that can best be described as dysfunctional, with a restive teachers union that doesn't make running things any easier. Of course, there is the toxic relationship between the police department and the African American community, which hasn't made law enforcement any easier. Then there is the fraying ties between City Hall and the Latino community. And finally, there is a resurgent progressive movement throughout the city and around the country that isn't making political life any easier for confirmed centrists like Mayor Emmanuel. Yes, I think one would have to concede that Rahm Emmanuel got out while the getting was good!
Ultimately, however, I suspect Rahm discovered what every other Chicago mayor has learned. Historically, being the Mayor of Chicago is a dead end job. No Chicago mayor I'm aware of has ever gone on to bigger and better things. While the voter base in the city of Chicago can provide a good foundation to support a run at a state-wide office like governor or senator, the pungent Chicago reputation for crime and corruption tends to poison the atmosphere for Chicago mayors in the city's suburbs, the collar counties and Downstate. I get the distinct impression that Rahm Emmanuel was not too anxious to assume the position of "mayor for life".
Not unlike most Chicago mayors, Rahm Emmanuel did not leave behind a designated logical successor. At the present time there's no "power behind the throne" operating out of the City Council, for instance. When you get right down to it, there are hardly ANY charismatic political types waiting in the wings to assume the mantle of city leadership. Perhaps a Paul Vallas or a Gerald McCarthy can somehow stitch together a successful political coalition that will be strong enough to actually run the city efficiently.
All I know for sure is that Rahm Emmanuel leaves behind some big shoes to fill. And, alas, there are no political Cinderellas out there to slip on those shoes and assume a position of urban leadership that seems to be lacking all across America. So Chicago is in for some stormy seas ahead for the next several years it would appear. It won't be pretty to watch but darned if it won't be interesting as hell. Maybe I'll even live long enough to see how things turn out!
Filed under: Politics