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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Trounces Challenger In Runoff

By Bill Ruthhart and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel soundly defeated challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Tuesday, capturing a second term in Chicago’s first-ever runoff election and striking a note of humility by thanking voters for “a second term and a second chance.”

The win followed six weeks of a hard-fought, nationally watched second round in which Garcia tried to cast the contest as the latest proxy battle between establishment Democrats and the party’s progressive wing. Emanuel’s overwhelming financial advantage ultimately helped save the mayor as he fought for his political life.

“To all the voters, I want to thank you for putting me through my paces,” Emanuel said after springing to the stage as U2’s “Beautiful Day” blared at the plumbers union hall. “I will be a better mayor because of that. I will carry your voices, your concerns into…the mayor’s office.”

With 98 percent of the city’s precincts reporting, Emanuel had 55.7 percent of the unofficial vote to 44.3 percent for Garcia.

Emanuel congratulated the Cook County commissioner on running an “excellent campaign” and said a contest that featured an immigrant and the grandson of an immigrant showed why Chicago “is the greatest city in America.”

Garcia spoke to a raucous crowd at the UIC Forum about his journey from humble beginnings as a five-year-old who came to the U.S. from Durango, Mexico, to eventually run for mayor of the nation’s third-largest city.

“To all the little boys and girls watching: We didn’t lose today. We tried today. We fought hard for what we believe in,” Garcia said. “You don’t succeed at this or anything else unless you try. So keep trying. Keep standing up for yourselves and what you believe in.”

Emanuel portrayed the win as allowing him to continue a public life that has included senior roles for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and leading the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House while serving in Congress.

“While a lot of people describe Chicago in a lot of ways, all of us describe it as home. To the Second City that voted for a second term and a second chance: I have had the good fortune to serve two presidents. I have had the good fortune of being elected to Congress,” said a hoarse Emanuel, who soon after received a congratulatory call from Obama. “Being elected mayor of the city of Chicago is the greatest job I’ve ever had and the greatest job in the world. I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve you.”

Elections traditionally serve as a referendum on the officeholder, but Emanuel was effective at turning the tables on Garcia. The mayor painted the challenger as making costly promises and questioned whether Garcia had the credentials to lead a city facing enormous financial problems. The tactic also was a way to deflect attention from Emanuel’s own controversial decisions and abrasive style that marked his first term.

Left unsaid by the mayor was that his financial plans count on quick help from Springfield, an approach that has proved politically difficult in the past. That reliance on a state government bailout is likely to be even more problematic, given the state’s own financial challenges and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s focus on cutting aid to cities.

For an election that followed a weekend of religious holidays and fell during a week when most of the city’s schools are out on spring break, turnout approached 40 percent. That exceeded the near-record low of 34 percent in February’s first round. Four years ago, turnout was 42 percent for the open-seat contest after the retirement of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Emanuel suffered the national political embarrassment of being forced into the runoff after failing to eclipse 50 percent of the vote against a far lesser known field of four candidates in February. In that race, Emanuel garnered 45.6 percent, while Garcia finished second with 33.5 percent.

After the February election, Emanuel aides privately acknowledged they were not happy with the campaign’s ground game. The mayor largely relied on the ward organizations of supportive aldermen and a host of trade unions, including plumbers, pipe fitters, laborers, painters, and operating engineers as well as the hospitality workers and firefighters unions.

Garcia leaned heavily on the Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union to turn out the vote. His goal was to win over those who voted for someone other than Emanuel in February.

But after spending weeks courting the city’s black voters, Garcia had trouble connecting well enough to make a difference. Emanuel held a lead in all of the city’s 18 black-majority wards and in all but one of the majority-white wards.

Garcia maintained a lead in 12 of the city’s 13 majority-Latino wards, the exception being the Southwest Side 13th Ward run by powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, where Emanuel racked up a big margin.

Tuesday’s balloting came after Emanuel spent the runoff campaign doubling down on his strategy to soften his image with Chicago’s voters.

In his first commercial of the runoff, Emanuel offered an apology of sorts to voters, saying he heard their message but stopping short of saying what he did wrong.

“They say your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. I’m living proof of that. I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen. I own that,” Emanuel said in the ad.

In the closing TV spot of his campaign, Emanuel was even more direct.

“Chicago’s a great city, but we can do even better,” the mayor said in the ad, before pointing a finger at his chest. “And yeah, I hear ya. So can I.”

All told, Emanuel raised about $23.6 million compared with a little more than six million dollars for Garcia. That allowed Emanuel to get on the air quickly after the first round of balloting to define Garcia for voters before the challenger had a chance to define himself and capitalize on the momentum generated by forcing the mayor into a runoff.

About an hour after Emanuel wrapped up his victory speech, his campaign reported another $800,000 in contributions, including $300,000 from close confidant and wealthy finance executive Michael Sacks and his wife, Cari. In addition, the Emanuel-aligned Chicago Forward super political action committee reported another $200,000 from the couple Tuesday, increasing their total contribution to $1.9 million to that committee alone. The super PAC spent $2.6 million on the mayor’s race.

The mayor ran a nonstop stream of TV ads since November, more than 20 different spots that aired more than 7,000 times. For the runoff, Emanuel ran more than two thousand ads on Chicago TV stations, double Garcia’s total.

“How much did he spend? Do the math. How much per vote?” said 22nd Ward Alderman Ric Munoz, one of just two of the city’s 50 aldermen to publicly back Garcia. “With unlimited resources like that, it’s almost impossible.”

Garcia aired ads in which he criticized Emanuel for his decision to close 50 neighborhood schools and for presiding over a spike in shootings and homicides. The challenger closed his campaign with an ad that sought to convey an air of excitement around his candidacy.

“People aren’t asking for much. Just a little. For our families to be a little more secure, our streets a little safer, our schools a little better. It’s not too much to ask, but nobody’s listening,” Garcia said in the commercial. “It’s like there’s one Chicago for the powerful and another one for the rest of us. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change Chicago.”

Garcia also received an assist from the SEIU, which aired an attack ad against Emanuel that slammed the mayor for what it contended was looking out for the city’s downtown and the wealthy at expense of the city’s neighborhoods. Chicago Forward, the Emanuel-aligned super PAC, aired attack ads against Garcia that alleged the challenger would raise taxes dramatically if elected, citing the various promises he’d made on the campaign trail.

Photo: Rahm Emanuel via Facebook

Chicago Mayor Emanuel Heads To Runoff Against Garcia

By Bill Ruthhart and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is headed to a politically risky runoff election in April after conceding he won’t reach the 50 percent benchmark he needs on Tuesday night.

“We have come a long way and we have a little further to go,” Emanuel told supporters at a union hall.

Emanuel said he’s moved the city in the right direction. “But we have to be honest. We have a lot more work to do.”
With 83.7 percent of precincts reporting, Emanuel had 45.5 percent to 33.9 percent for challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner. The two will now campaign for six more weeks and Chicago voters will get their final say on April 7.

Some Emanuel supporters booed Garcia’s name, but Emanuel cautioned them off. “No, no. He’s a good man,” Emanuel said of Garcia.

Businessman Willie Wilson was running third at 10.5 percent, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti had 7.4 percent and frequent candidate William “Dock” Walls had 2.7 percent, according to unofficial returns.

Emanuel used a multimillion-dollar campaign war chest to try to rebuild his image and rebound from widespread voter disenchantment, but being forced into an April 7 runoff election would represent a personal and political setback, given his massive fundraising advantage against a field of far lesser-known opponents.

The low-enthusiasm nature of the mayoral campaign was symbolized by what city election officials said was low voter turnout Tuesday, which saw chilly temperatures and occasional bouts of snow. City projections had this turnout comparable to the record low of 33 percent in 2007 when then-Mayor Richard M. Daley won his sixth and final term.

An April runoff election between the top two finishers could sharply change the political dynamics. Anti-Emanuel voters could coalesce around Garcia, who also could go back to campaign donors and argue he’s got momentum. While a stream of ads and active Emanuel fundraising is expected to continue, it also puts more pressure on the mayor to engage Garcia one-on-one, rather than largely dismissing the field of challengers as Emanuel did during five debates.

Emanuel amassed a campaign fund of more than $16 million, with nearly half of that dedicated to 16 different broadcast television ads that aimed to shave off the sharp edge of the mayor’s persona as well as criticisms over school closings, crime and neighborhood economic development that marked his first four years.

Garcia, a former alderman and state lawmaker, was a late entry into the race. He assumed the mantle of the Chicago Teachers Union after its president, Karen Lewis, ended a potential bid for mayor following a diagnosis of brain cancer.

The next mayor, inaugurated formally in May, faces a series of severe economic challenges ahead.

The city must find $550 million more to put into police and fire pensions by year’s end — and Emanuel did not rule out a boost in city property taxes to cover the costs after tapping higher 911 emergency phone taxes last year to increase payments into other city pension funds.

Additionally, organized labor has sued the city over agreements that Emanuel had made with some city unions in an effort to reduce Chicago’s pension liability.

The next mayor also faces the prospect of continuing city budget shortfalls ahead of the magnitude of hundreds of millions of dollars as new Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed a state budget that would take $135 million in income tax money away from Chicago.

Ahead of the election, Emanuel had sought to paint his rivals as unable to articulate a cogent or comprehensive solution for dealing with the city’s financial problems.

Garcia called for using tax-increment financing funds to make a down payment on city pensions as well as a state constitutional amendment to impose a graduated income tax on the wealthy.

For his part, Fioretti backed a controversial transaction tax on Chicago Board of Trade activity as well as a tax on commuters who come into the city. Wilson was opposed to any tax increases and instead called for restoring Northerly Island as a Meigs Field airport and creating a Chicago casino.

Emanuel, Garcia and Fioretti all lunched in the South Loop on Tuesday. The mayor ate at the Eleven City Diner on South Wabash, while Garcia and Fioretti went to the traditional political lunch spot, Manny’s.

In the final days of the race, Garcia had insisted he was headed to a one-on-one showdown with Emanuel.

“We’re headed to a runoff,” Garcia said. “We have a strong organization, people are very enthused. We’ve picked up a lot momentum over the past week, and our goal is to get into a runoff.”

Much like his race for mayor four years ago, Emanuel spent heavily to get his message before voters. But this time around, he placed less focus on his well-known political caricature as a fiery and often foul-mouthed politician. Instead, as a longtime political operative well-versed in campaign messaging, Emanuel made the calculation that his campaign should be less about him and more about what he has done.

As a result, his campaign website’s home page focused on an interactive Chicago map of city improvements over photos of Emanuel. His campaign slogan was rebranded from “Chicago for Rahm” to “Chicago Together.” And almost all of his campaign ads did not include him talking, but instead featured supporters lauding his specific accomplishments.

It was an effort to soften Emanuel’s image with voters, some of whom have been angry with him over a 2012 teachers strike, his decision in 2013 to close 50 schools and his ongoing struggle to tamp down the city’s violent crime.

Opponents, particularly Garcia and Fioretti, sought to seize on the school closings and the city’s spike in shootings on Emanuel’s watch as reason for voters to replace the mayor.

Garcia repeatedly slammed Emanuel for not fulfilling a campaign promise to hire an additional 1,000 police officers while the mayor countered he reassigned hundreds of officers from desk jobs to street beats. Garcia vowed to hire 1,000 additional cops but did not entirely account for how he’d pay for it. Fioretti promised to hire 500.

Wilson said he’d reopen at least half of the schools that Emanuel closed, without saying how he’d pay for it. Garcia and Fioretti pushed for an elected school board as the answer to Emanuel’s appointed Board of Education voting to back his school closings.

In August, Emanuel’s job approval rating bottomed out at 35 percent, according to a Chicago Tribune poll that also found for the first time that every major demographic group in the city disapproved of his performance as mayor. That same poll had Emanuel trailing in a hypothetical one-on-one matchup with Lewis.

For four years straight, Tribune polling showed voters backing the Chicago Teachers Union over Emanuel when it came to their disputes on how best to run the city’s school system.

By the time candidates filed for office, Emanuel found himself against opponents with lower political profiles who struggled to gain traction and raise enough money to air their own TV ads. Since Emanuel took to the airwaves in November, his support has improved.

A Tribune poll published last Tuesday found Emanuel’s support had rebounded, particularly among blacks. He held a 43 percent to 13 percent advantage over Garcia among black voters, with one-fourth of them still undecided. That was a stark turnaround compared with the August poll that found six-in-10 black voters disapproving of Emanuel’s job performance and only one-in-four voters approving.
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(Tribune reporters David Kidwell, John Chase, Jeff Coen, David Heinzmann and Patrick M. O’Connell contributed.)

Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil via Flickr