By Suzanne Hanney
Activist groups that supported Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in his unsuccessful race against Mayor Rahm Emanuel are nevertheless claiming a partial victory in terms of Emanuel’s changed style and embrace of more liberal public policies.
“Rahm Emanuel was forced to back off many of the policies favored by his elite corporate backers, partially capitulating to low-wage worker demands for a higher minimum wage, unplugging many red light cameras and running a slew of commercials targeted to working families with a left message frame,” Grassroots Illinois Action (GIA) said in prepared material sent out soon after Emanuel captured 56 percent of the vote.
Last December 2, the Chicago City Council agreed to raise the local minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 thanks to an ordinance sponsored by Emanuel.
“He spent the last four years governing as a corporate Democrat, but he won re-election campaigning as a progressive,” GIA said. “The façade of the untouchable Rahm Emanuel and air of invincibility is gone and it is not coming back.”
GIA said it had mobilized volunteers to knock on 49,144 doors on behalf of Garcia and Progressive Caucus aldermen between the February 25 regular election and the April 7 runoff.
Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois/Chicago, author of the book, “Corrupt Illinois” and former Chicago alderman, agreed that the activist groups shifted Emanuel left on the issues such as minimum wage and other things that happened around the time of the election.
“I don’t know if Emanuel will be warmer and fuzzier but I think he will be more willing to and need to compromise to get the hard jobs done through City Council like the cutting of services and the raising of property taxes.“
The election also resulted in a larger Progressive Caucus on the 50-member Chicago City Council, which will mean an end to neighborhood disinvestment, said Amisha Patel, GIA executive director.
All seven incumbent Progressive Caucus members won re-election and the caucus will grow to 13 or 14 members, depending on final runoff results, Simpson said.
As of April 9, the caucus stood to gain Milagros “Milly” Santiago, who was winning over long-time Ald. Ray Suarez in the 31st ward and Susan Sadlowski Garza, who was winning over incumbent Ald. John Pope in the Southeast Side 10th ward, Simpson said. Caroline Vickrey, who challenged incumbent Ald. Michele Smith in the 43rd ward, would likely be a Progressive Caucus member, he said.
The results have come down to absentee ballots. According to Chicago.Suntimes.com, Santiago was leading Suarez by 90 votes and Garza was 44 votes ahead of Pope. But Vickrey was trailing Smith by 69 votes.
Despite Emanuel’s efforts to unseat them, Progressive Caucus aldermen Toni Foulkes (16th ward) and John Arena (45th ward) won their runoffs, Patel said. Newly-elected aldermen Carlos Rosa (35th ward) and David Moore (17th ward) have also promised to join the caucus, she added.
Kristen Crowell, executive director of United Working Families, said that “UWF candidates who won tonight ran on an explicitly progressive agenda that included a real living wage of $15 per hour, an elected school board, reform of the city’s TIF program and an end of the privatization of city services and corporate sweetheart deals.” UWF is supported by the Chicago Teachers Union, SEIU Illinois Healthcare GIA and Action Now.
Crowell said that progressive independent political power like UWF has made Emanuel accountable to working families “especially African-Americans and Latinos, whom he rediscovered to win election….The new energy and activism that Chuy awakened has spread independent political power all across Chicago. I’m confident that [April 7’s] results represent just the planting, not the bloom, of a new progressive period for Chicago politics.”
Simpson agreed that there is a second act for Garcia, even if he was unable to revive the Harold Washington rainbow coalition.
“Chuy Garcia is still the floor leader for Toni Preckwinkle on the Cook County Board and will still have an important role to play,” Simpson said. “I don’t doubt people will try to draft him for higher office.
“Latinos did vote strongly for Chuy Garcia,” he added. “Blacks voted in majority for Rahm Emanuel but much less than whites did. It’s the beginning of a task, not the end of it. There needs to be a permanent political organization to rally what used to be called the rainbow coalition.”