Mar 2, 2015
On February 24, people in Chicago thumbed their noses at Rahm Emanuel who, so many times during his last four years as mayor, had thumbed his nose at them. Emanuel wasn’t able to pull the votes he needed to avoid a run-off in the mayor’s election. He had collected more than 30 million dollars since 2011, many times what the other four candidates altogether had collected. He was supported by most of the Democratic Party establishment, including some union bureaucrats, and by the wealthy people who run the city. President Barack Obama came to Chicago only five days before the election to open a national historic monument – and, by the way, to give Emanuel, his former chief of staff, a big hug for the cameras. And Emanuel still wasn’t able to avoid a run-off.
As the two Chicago newspapers put it, the vote was a solid embarrassment for Emanuel.
Arrogant to the core, he had never bothered to hide his contempt for ordinary people. In 2012, he told Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago teachers’ union, that he believed 25% of public school students in Chicago are never going to amount to anything – and he wasn’t about to throw away money on them.
That was Emanuel to the core – a condescending vulgar thug who took pride in being one.
Tuesday, February 24, election day, the ordinary people took their revenge. They denied Emanuel the victory he and all his wealthy patrons assumed was rightfully his. And they gave a surprisingly large vote to Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County Commissioner who hadn’t even joined the race for mayor until late in the fall.
That was not the only public shame endured by Emanuel. Twelve city council candidates, heavily funded by Emanuel, were forced into run-offs. And a 13th was defeated. Emanuel’s support turned out to be a kiss of death for some aldermen who had proudly paraded around as flunkeys.
Then there was the vote for an elected school board. Ninety per cent of those allowed to vote on the measure agreed: they didn’t want the school board appointed by the mayor as it is now. Their vote was only a “non-binding advisory” vote. But they made it clear, they are fed up with how Emanuel’s appointed board has been destroying public school education.
Emanuel has lots of money left for the run-off election. And the people who coughed up 31 million dollars for him have plenty more money where that came from – they’ve been stealing it from the working population all along. In this capitalist society, what money wants is what money gets. Usually.
But, yes, Garcia could defeat Emanuel. After all, there was a solid base of support for him among Spanish-speaking voters, people like Garcia, who either came from Mexico or whose families came from there. Today, they make up an important part of the city. And they might well feel that it’s now “their time.” But in the February election almost three quarters didn’t vote.
There is anger against Emanuel in the black wards. Emanuel got 56% of the vote in these wards four years ago, only to use their vote against the people who supported him. Emanuel closed 50 schools in 2013 – the very big majority of which served black neighborhoods.
In the February election, more than two thirds of the people in those same wards sat out the election. Of the ones who voted, more voted for Emanuel than for Garcia, or for Willie Williams, a black businessman. But Emanuel got much less than four years ago, less than half.
What will all those workers do – black, Mexican, other Spanish-speaking, white workers – all those workers who didn’t vote in February? Apparently they didn’t believe in the first round that their vote made any difference. And they were the big majority.
There certainly were workers who said just before the February election that they didn’t think that Garcia, finally, would be much different from Emanuel. But some of these same people, after saying that, said they didn’t care. They were still going to vote for Garcia, because they couldn’t stand Emanuel and his arrogant smirk.
Sometimes, that’s all that people feel they can do – vote out the thug who has been in office.
That’s fine. But let’s be realistic. The wealthy people who bought the office for Emanuel have plenty of other thugs to take his place.
By putting Garcia in office, what do the working people of Chicago get?
The real test of Garcia, and of anyone else who asks for the workers’ vote, is whether he tells us the truth. Does he say that he can do nothing, unless people prepare for a fight? Because that is the truth. Until working people are ready to tear up the political system, until we are ready to say, let the banks be damned, don’t give them one more cent of our money – until then, we won’t begin to answer our problems.
Chuy Garcia, good Democrat that he is, has never proposed that – not before when he was in office, not now when he is running.
But sooner or later, working people are going to have to find a way to express their own interests. To put it bluntly: the working class is going to have to fight. We are going to have to fight for ourselves. And no matter who is elected in April, unless and until the working class fights, we won’t have any way out of the trap we find ourselves in. Not in Chicago – and not anywhere in the country.