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Chicago Elections 2019: The Runoffs –The Aftermath
We said the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance. February 26 was just a prologue to what happened in the runoffs April 2. Here is a summary:
5th Ward: Incumbent Leslie Hairston leads Activist William Calloway by about 150 votes
Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez (20th Ward)
(Calloway was the young man who made sure that the Laquan McDonald video was made public). Until the mail ballots are counted, this is considered too close to call. Even if Calloway loses, it speaks to the direction, the possibility of organization around the issues that formed the basis of the Calloway campaign.
15th Ward: Incumbent Ray Lopez beat Rafa Yanez by 20 percentage points (Yanez was backed by unions and had a pretty good program).
20th Ward: Activist Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez won handily!!! This is very big. Taylor was not only a hunger striker to keep open a school in her neighborhood, but she has been a grass roots activist for 20 years. Working class forces who have been unable to get their demands met for their basic rights, like fully funded public schools, are taking those demands into the electoral arena.
Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward)
25th Ward: Byron Sigcho-Lopez beat Alex Acevedo!!! Byron has been a public schools activist for many years, a researcher who exposed the corruption in the UNO Charter School network, and is now director of the Pilsen Alliance. He embraced the five-point program of the Puerto Rican Concerned Voters, a program that calls for basic rights like housing and health care. He has also supported the People’s Tribune.
30th Ward: Incumbent Ariel Reboyras turned back the challenge of Jessica Gutierrez, only winning by only 300 votes, 4 percentage points (Reboyras is a Rahm shill who supports the cops; Gutierrez is the daughter of former congressman Luis Gutierrez.)
33rd Ward: Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez leads incumbent Deb Mell by 65 votes with all precincts counted. Mail ballots will determine the winner. This will be very big if she wins — Rossana is a declared member of DSA and her words have been highly publicized, opposing the Chicago machine, supporting housing for all. The Mell family has run this ward for 40 years.
40th Ward: Activist Andre Vasquez soundly defeated long time incumbent Pat O’Connor!!! This is likely the most important race in the city. O’Connor has been in office
Andre Vasquez (40th Ward)
since 1983, was part of the bloc that prevented Harold Washington from getting work done — the Vrdolyak 29 — and is one of the most powerful aldermen. Vasquez also has the flair of hip-hop performer, because he was one; and he comes right out of the working class, bringing his personal struggles for housing and education to the electoral arena. He is a DSA member. He was endorsed by United Working Families and Reclaim Chicago.
46th Ward: Incumbent James Cappleman leads Marianne Lalonde by the slimmest margin, only 23 votes. Awaiting the mail ballots to determine the outcome. If Lalonde can make up the difference, this will be almost as big as ousting O’Connor, because Cappleman was appointed to chair the Zoning Committee instead of disgraced alderman Danny Solis. Lalonde is a scientist (literally) with roots in community organizations. Just taking Cappleman down would be a big win.
47th Ward: Matt Martin soundly defeated Rahm surrogate Michael Negron. Martin was backed by a number of progressives and the United Working Families, and his opponent was a supporter of the cops.
Maria Hadden (49th Ward)
In other words, joining the victories from the February 26 election Daniel La Spata (1),(Sue Garza (10), Mike Rodriguez(22), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa(35), and Hadden (49)) we have definite victories in 20, 25, 40 and 47; too close to call in 33 and 46; and a remarkable showing in 5. (A quick note that we did not mention Mike Rodriguez earlier. Former staffer for retiring alderman Rick Munoz, Rodriguez was tapped to run by Munoz and was also endorsed by United Working Families.
The characteristic of this election is that a large number of the “ins” were turned out. In some cases, the incumbents faced challenges like they had never faced before. People are dissatisfied with what government has been able to do for them. To the extent they still think that they can find some redress in the electoral offices, they came to the polls to express that dissatisfaction. That necessarily is disrupting the political stranglehold the Democratic Party has had on Chicago. This is not simply an ideological battle for an abstract “socialist” idea. It is a life and death fight carried out for the right to housing, health care, education. It swarms from the polarization of wealth and poverty, that arises from jobs being automated out of existence forever. The old ability of the “Democratic Party machine” to mobilize voters is dissipating, while organizations like United Working Families is staking a claim for the allegiance of workers. Ten of the UWF endorsees are now on City Council, if Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez wins her seat, and that includes the 5 people who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.
We can’t forget, however, the losses. In the general election John Arena lost his seat on the basis of some overt racist/anti-working class propaganda about his support of affordable housing; also in the general election corrupt and indicted alderman Ed Burke won re-election with some 54% of the vote. (This could be considered something of a victory since he nearly was forced into a runoff by Tanya Patino, a good candidate, the first time he has faced a challenger since dinosaurs roamed the earth. But he won.)
And then there is the mayoral election itself. The landslide victory of Lori Lightfoot (she won every ward and all but 20 of the 2029 precincts in the city) confirms the conclusion that this was a vote against the “ins.” Lightfoot was able to project herself as an outsider ready to drain the corrupt swamp, at the same time that she had been a Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee and a high paid lawyer with a “silk stocking” law firm; while Preckwinkle ran a campaign that emphasized her experience and demonstrated ability to do the job. It didn’t help that doing the job meant defending two of the most corrupt Chicago politicians and a very unpopular, regressive tax.
The most consistent opinion in the general election at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. Once the runoff campaign began, the inevitability of an African-American woman mayor dawned not only on the electorate, but on the makers and shakers of Chicago politics. Public worker unions wound up contributing over $4 million to the Preckwinkle campaign (public worker contracts are coming up in a number of bargaining units; pensions are a big shadow over the Chicago budget). The building trades unions contributed over $500,000 to the Lightfoot campaign (at stake are union construction jobs at the airport expansion).
Meanwhile a mixture of Democratic Party functionaries endorsed each candidate. One Rahm functionary after another came down on the side of Lightfoot. In the down ballot races, Rahm’s Chicago Forward PAC contributed to all of his incumbent friends and non-incumbent allies running in open races. With all the money in the election, the turnout was barely more than 30% of the electorate. And despite the machine money (Union money and boots on the ground), the weakness of the machine was everywhere evident. One significant exception was the failure to oust incumbents on the South and West sides, long the base of support of the Party machine.
One last way to look at this mayoral election: the precincts that voted against Harold Washington in 1983, that is, that voted for a Republican rather than a Black Democrat, voted in this election for Lori Lightfoot, some in the highest percentages in the city. That is food for thought about what they expect from this candidate.
The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent. In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.
First of all, again about the election turnout. What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates? Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference? In some wards, the cynicism was rife. But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.
Second, even though we can toss O’Connor overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if we can get rid of Hairston, Cappleman and Mell, even if in Wards 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 22, 25, 33, 40, 46 and 47 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a 80% of councilmen in place; council members who graze in the pastures of wealth. It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember, happy as we are about where we win, that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.
We won a lot in this election cycle including the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We need to celebrate and lick our wounds and get busy. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate: the right to housing, education, police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.
Now comes the real work.