Rahm Emanuel is running again. The Democratic Chicago mayor officially kicked off his re-election campaign over the weekend with a speech about the bright and sunny “new Chicago” that he’s helped to build over the past four years.
“There is a real choice in this race,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “Whether we go back to the old Chicago that only worked for some, or continue forward building a new Chicago that works for everyone.”
Few would dispute that Chicago has changed substantially over the past four years; whether the transformed city “works for everyone” is a little more controversial. Chicago today may have a lower murder rate than it did a few years ago, but it also has 49 fewer public schools than it used to, and a colossally underfunded public pension system.
Most importantly, Chicago is still very much a city divided along racial and economic lines. Emanuel may not be responsible for those divisions, but his opponents on the left are convinced his actions in office have exacerbated them. Opposition to the education policies of “Mayor One Percent” (a derisive nickname for Emanuel, reportedly coined by local NBC Chicago blogger Edward McClelland) was one of the major reasons the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on strike in 2012. And it was one of the reasons why community activists and labor unions — both locally and nationally — were so excited about the possibility that CTU president Karen Lewis might challenge Emanuel in the 2015 Chicago Democratic mayoral primary.
That possibility no longer exists. Karen Lewis revealed in October that she is suffering from a brain tumor, and will therefore not be seeking political office. While the Mayor’s re-election still isn’t guaranteed, he has good reason to feel more secure than he was a few months ago. The woman seen by Chi-town handicappers as his most formidable opponent is out of the race.
Lewis’s withdrawal has left something of a vacuum to the left of Emanuel. The man seen as most likely to take the CTU president’s place in the race is Jesús “Chuy” García, a member of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. García may not have Lewis’s star power, but he commands support from Chicago’s labor movement. Last week, one of Illinois’ major health care unions announced a $250,000 donation to his nascent campaign.
Whether the left’s second choice has a real shot against Emanuel remains to be seen. García is far behind in the polls, but close enough that a run-off election is within the realm of possibility. At least for now, García looks like the most plausible standard bearer for a left that is still grieving what might have been.