Now that the wide variety of political shenanigans that have come to exemplify the 2011 Chicago mayoral race have been exhausted, it seems there’s nothing left to do but wait for Tuesday’s electoral returns. At that point we may stop referring to former U.S. Congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as the “presumed favorite,” move beyond his Goliath campaign and start seeing the new CEO of Chi-town in action.
After all, there’s no way anyone could take him at this point, right? Rahmbo has five times more campaign funds at his disposal than nearest fiscal competitor, Gery Chico. His slick print ads and television spots depict the handsome, well-dressed former ballet dancer as a family man who cares about the middle class, ready to make the “tough choices” that will put Chicago back on the fast track to claiming its status as an affordable, world class city. A few of his TV plugs contain public endorsements from not one but two U.S. Presidents, current POTUS Barack Obama, as well as immediate predecessor William Jefferson Clinton.
From the moment on October 1, 2010 when Rahm Emanuel formally announced the resignation of his big-time White House post to throw his hat in the ring for the Chicago mayoral race, his candidacy had an almost pre-ordained quality. His name would certainly be the biggest in the contest, and all too often in U.S. politics, bigger means more viable. Rahmbo is a bulldog by reputation, which fits very well with the Windy City’s blue collar, tough guy image, yet he knows how to construct a sentence. The current mayor, Richard M. Daley, speaks with the eloquence of a barely housebroken pitbull, and his constituents (and machine conspirators) love him for it. Emanuel seems positively refined by comparison, no matter how many “f” bombs he drops.
In terms of name recognition, Rahm Emanuel’s only real competition comes in the shape of political hasbeen, former U.S. Senator Carol Mosley Braun. Although ignorance is bliss where Braun’s legislative past is concerned, most Chicagoans over the age of 35 well recall her terrifically tone deaf response to Newsweek contributing editor George Will’s 1998 examination of the various corruption charges against her: “I think because he couldn’t say nigger, he said corrupt.” She went on to compare Will to a Ku Klux Klansman, stating “I mean this very sincerely from the bottom of my heart: He can take his hood and put it back on again, as far as I’m concerned.”
One might labor under the mistaken belief that Mosley Braun has since learned to police the crazy, having undone her career once already. But no, that’s incorrect. Open your web browser and log onto to Google. From there, enter the search term “carol moseley braun crackhead.” What do you see? All the links you can handle reporting a January 30, 2011 incident at a live debate where Senator Braun addressed opposing candidate Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins as follows: “Patricia, the reason you didn’t know where I was for the last 20 years is because you were strung out on crack…Now, you have admitted to that.”
Van Pelt-Watkins had of course, admitted to no such thing, but move over Whitney Houston. The legendary singer’s 2006 utterance to journalist Diane Sawyer that “crack is whack” was heretofore the most infamous commentary regarding the illegal substance.
So yeah, with opposition of this ilk, Rahm Emanuel’s path to the mayor’s office has been relatively smooth sailing. I do not mean to suggest, with this review of Carol Mosley’s Braun’s uninterrupted political gaffes, that Emanuel faces no serious challengers. He certainly does. It’s just that former Richard M. Daley Chief of Staff Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle, both respected public servants, cannot complete with the sexy, baby kissing, cash flush spectacle of Emanuel.
The thing is though, I think many residents of Chicago have grown tired of being told who their leaders will be before having the chance to evaluate. Though the town has never done much to dispel it’s reputation as a one-party, corrupt patronage operation, much like the recent liberation of Egypt by its own democracy-staved citizens, I smell a similar passion for change in the Midwest air. Three ex-governors in the last 35 years have been sent to the clink, and a fourth, Rod Blagojevich, is surely on his way. Mayor Daley may have done great things in terms of beautifying the landscape and attracting new business but anyone who has lived in the city for the last 22 years knows how much damage his interminable term has done: skyrocketing property taxes, unaffordable homes, runway gang crime and terrible fiscal decisions.
Though change is in the air in one form or another, is there anyone naive enough to believe that Rahmbo will represent a clean break from The Machine? I am still having a hard time digesting the coincidental swap of Rahm Emanuel for Bill Daley, the outgoing mayor’s younger brother, as the President’s Chief of Staff. No, there’s nothing suspect about that at all.
With Rahm demonstrating a commanding lead in the polls, 49 percent of the popular vote to Chico’s 19, it seems pointless to consider an outcome other than his total domination at the polls this week. But wait! For those of us perversely hoping for a dark horse spoiler (and no, Carol Mosley Braun, before you even start, that is not racist), we do have the prospect of a runoff. In order to prevent a general election showdown between Rahmbo and the number two finisher, the foul mouthed one needs at least 51 percent of the vote. 49 just won’t do. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that some hard last minute campaigning by Chico and del Valle (who has my vote) will prevent Emanuel from sailing into City Hall on Wednesday. Run-offs are generally not the friend of front-runners because they allow time and opportunity for a once splintered opposition to develop a united front.
However unlikely, as a lover of democracy residing in a city that doesn’t see a lot of balanced elections, that’s what I’d like to see happen. I want Rahmbo, if he is indeed our mayor-to-be, to have to sweat it out at a bit more than he has. Those lame residency challenges, which Emanuel continued to swat away like pesky mosquitoes, do not satisfy the appetite for electoral combat. After 22 years of Daley hostage-taking, Chicago deserves a real fight for its future.