Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's first Jewish mayor is working to fend off a challenge from a guy named Jesus

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago's first Jewish mayor is working to fend off a challenge from a guy named Jesus
photo: chicago tribune

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s 55th mayor is also its first Jewish mayor.  Elected in 2011, Emanuel ran into headwinds last month in his bid for re-election.  Needing about 233,000 of the approximately 466,000 votes cast, Emanuel came up short with only 211,600 votes, or about 45%.

This must have come as a surprise to the guy that the New York Times once described as the “most influential Chief of Staff in a generation.”  It’s the first mayoral runoff since Chicago adopted its current voting structure in 1995.

Emanuel’s chief opponent, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia got 157,500 votes (34%).  Willie Wilson, one of the most unlikely candidates to ever mount a serious challenge in Chicago, garnered about 49,500 votes (11%).

Without going into the tomfoolery of Wilson’s candidacy (read it here), the fact that he is in the unique position to be kingmaker in the April runoff highlights the allure of Chicago politics.

Typically, Chicago votes for the white guy.  Typically, but not always.  Jane Byrne wasn’t a guy, Harold Washington wasn’t white.  Then again, demographics change.

Before giving up his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Emanuel had won four convincing elections to represent Illinois’ 5th District.

At a time when money seems to be the main ingredient to the gooey molasses we call politics, it didn’t move the needle enough in Chicago that day.  While Rahm amassed a $15 Million war chest, the opponent he will face on April 7 only raised $1 Million.

Rahm’s opponent is Mexican-born Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.  If you are of Latino extraction, you probably know to pronounce Garcia’s first name as “Hey-soos.”   To many of us Americanos, we see “Jesus” on a page and our brain says, “Jee-zus.”

Either way you see it, the Jew’s got his work cut out for him.

Garcia’s nickname, “Chuy” is pronounced “Chew-ee”, like the affectionate nickname Han Solo had for Chewbacca .  Or Chelsea Handler’s old sidekick on the Chelsea Lately show.

In Mexico, guys named Jesus are often called Chuy or Chucho.

Rahm’s problems are little deeper than a rival named Jesus.  First, and maybe foremost is his relationship-or lack thereof-with Chicago’s teachers.  Emanuel and teacher’s union representative, Karen Lewis locked horns repeatedly, the now-sidelined Lewis throwing her support behind Garcia.

Closing schools in mostly-black neighborhoods may be a good way to trim the budget, but it’s not going to make anyone any friends.

Chicago’s murder rate isn’t helping Emanuel’s case, either is its poor bond rating.  How much the mayor can do about either is debatable, but business leaders will tell you that Chicago’s business community is thriving.

Unfortunately for Emanuel, there aren’t enough of those business leaders to swing an election for Rahm, not even if all of them actually resided within the city limits.

Garcia seems to see the tax credits that have attracted so many new business into the city as a giveaway, at least that’s how he’s presenting it to the voters.  While the people in Garcia’s Little Village neighborhood may not appreciate the need for accommodating a Forbes 500 company with tax breaks, the value they bring to the city far exceeds the accommodations.

Among Garcia’s grand plan for Chicago is to do away with red light cameras-25 of them were removed by Emanuel this weekend-and to put 1,000 more cops on the streets.

No one can argue that a big city like Chicago-one with all the social ills of most big cities-can’t use some extra cops on the street.  Chuy may or may not realize that it would take him a minute to hire, train and deploy all those cops.  He probably does.

He probably also realizes that at a starting salary of $43,000 per year, he’s going to need an extra $43 Million for the first year of that project.  That number goes up to about $61 Million after 18 months.

All that with a bad bond rating and no more schools to close.

On the subject of police, Garcia may have another, more esoteric problem involving his son, Sam, who court documents once described as a neighborhood menace.

I couldn’t find the term, “neighborhood menace” in Urban Dictionary, I imagine words like “thug” and “gangbanger” being used as synonyms.

In 2007, 24-year old Sam Garcia was arrested for throwing a hammer at a police car-it was occupied at the time.  Garcia’s companion at the time threw a baseball bat.  Sam’s comment at the time of his arrest was that he was sorry he didn’t do more damage to the car.  Or the police inside, it wasn’t clear to me.

Young Garcia had another serious run in with the police in 2010-these are felonies we’re talking about here-but all that went away with some very favorable plea bargains.

It may be coincidence, but the firm that represented Sam Garcia through his trials and tribulations-the leading global law firm of Mayer Brown-did it for free.  Pro bono, as they say in the legal world, although Garcia’s case(s) hardly seem like the stuff of pro bono value.

The reason I say that it may be a coincidence is that in 2012, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, then Cook County Board Commissioner, co-sponsored a bill throwing a $100 Million bond offering Mayer Brown’s way.  You can read about it here  or here .

Not to throw stones at Garcia, we all know how lines can get blurred when it comes to our children.

All elections are local.  People will vote based on what’s going on in their neighborhoods and in their pocket books.  Some will see the value of Emanuel’s mayoral contributions, some will not.  Some think of Emanuel as “Mayor 1%”, reflecting his place in society somewhere above middle class.

Many will find it easier to identify with a man of the people, like Chuy Garcia.  Especially those of Mexican and Latino heritage.  Which brings us to Willie Wilson’s happily-accepted role as kingmaker.

At the beginning of the month, Wilson said that he was going to vote for Garcia, but he still hadn’t made up his mind which candidate he would endorse.  That pretty much sums up the seriousness with which we should take Willie Wilson as a candidate for anything.

Now that Wilson’s fully endorsed Garcia, there’s two questions to ponder.  One is whether or not Garcia can expect to receive Wilson’s 49,500 votes in April.  You could ask, “is everyone who voted for the black guy more likely to vote the Mexican or the Jew?”

The other question, of course is what happens to the other 10% of the votes, most of which went to Alderman Bob Fioretti (34,500).

Mayor Emanuel’s new ad campaign is one of the best we’ve seen in a long time, its annoying frequency notwithstanding.  In these ads, Emanuel doesn’t bash anybody and takes responsibility for his faults.  He looks straight into the camera and say’s, “Chicago, I’m your guy.”

Those are my words, not his, but you get the gist.

I don’t vote in Chicago, but I think that if I did, Rahm would be my guy.  Hopefully, he won’t put those 25 red light cameras back if he wins.

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