On February 22, 2011, scarcely two hours after the polls closed, Rahm Emanuel was declared the winner of Chicago’s mayoral election. He won more than 50% of the vote in a field of six candidates, thus avoiding a run-off. Only 40% of the electorate voted.
Richard M. Daley announced last summer that, after 22 years in office, he would not run again for Mayor. Rahm Emanuel resigned as President Obama’s Chief of Staff and entered the race. Mayoral elections in Chicago are one-party, Democrat affairs: no pretense of Republican vs., Democrat ideologies here. Business institutions like the Commercial Club of Chicago control the government through a Democrat stranglehold.
Emanuel quickly pulled into the lead among the contenders. He amassed a war chest in campaign contributions, spending $8 million. He raised $12.3 million before January 1, 2011. Most money came from corporations, corporate officials, millionaires, billionaires and out of state rich people. Emanuel ran a campaign ad stating that public workers have to know that they serve the public, and that he will get the best service for Chicago at the cheapest price possible. In a meeting with union leaders, he declared his intent to review the pension system and cut where necessary.
The Chicago Teachers Union took immediate notice. In two years, Rahm Emanuel was paid many times more than any teacher could earn in a lifetime. Rahm worked for the Clinton administration. After he left that job, he received $18.5 million in compensation for his “work” in an investment firm. His job? Consolidating relationships acquired in the Clinton administration with the banking industry. He oversaw the merger that created one of the biggest energy companies (Exelon) and eliminated about 3,000 jobs. He also picked up another $300 grand as an employee of “Freddie Mac” for about nine months.
Rahm Emanuel proposed cutbacks in teachers’ wages. When criticized for his call for cutbacks, he said he is not asking any public servant to sacrifice any more than he has. With the “big lie” such as this, financed by five times the money that all his competitors had put together, and with national political clout behind him, Emanuel ran away with the election.
There are lessons to be learned from this election campaign.
• The idea of a “consensus candidate” is a thing of the past. Attempts to create a unified candidate for the Black community failed. Emanuel antagonized the trade unions and still won. Ethnicity and trade union endorsements no longer guarantee a bloc of voters. There needs to be a program and a candidate for the working class.
• The low turnout showed both the lack of respect that the electorate has for the Chicago political process and probably the belief that the winner was a foregone conclusion. This was not entirely evidence of “voter apathy.”
• A vibrant “progressive movement” coalesced especially in the campaign to elect Miguel del Valle. In a celebratory post election party, del Valle pledged NOT to work for the city of Chicago under the current mayor and promised to strengthen the grass roots movement “from the neighborhoods.” Rahm Emanuel is beholden to the corporations. He is a dangerous man, taking office in dangerous times. The system which bankrolls him is a deadly one. Across the Midwest, cities and states declare themselves on the verge of bankruptcy. Chicago has led the nation in privatizing to avoid bankruptcy, enriching its corporate masters. A grass roots – working class – movement can challenge the transfer of public property to corporate control by demanding the nationalization of corporations in the interests of the people and the federal taxation of the rich.