Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Progressives, and the Unions

A new poll indicates that Rahm Emanuel has widened his lead in the mayoral race. There are many ways in which the former White House chief of staff looks like a successor to Mayor Daley, and now it’s starting to seem like the votes may be there as well.

A new ABC7 poll of 600 registered voters shows Rahm Emanuel with a huge lead. Gery Chico’s campaign disputes the credibility of the numbers, but even their own internal numbers still show Chico facing a huge deficit (and I agree with Eric Zorn that Chico’s ad about Emanuel’s vague if abstractly appealing minor-luxuries tax felt desperate).

This has caused consternation among the still small voice of the city’s progressive left, who seem to be inclined to vote for Miguel Del Valle. Here’s Laura Washington, in In These Times:

For more than two decades, progressives have been chafing at Daley’s middle-of-the-road, downtown-centric, corporate style reign. His surprise retirement was a rare chance to restore ground-up municipal governing to the nation’s third largest city. Chicago’s minority groups, grassroots community activists and left-leaning unions have long clamored for more attention to festering gaps in education, economic development, affordable housing and public safety.

Now, it looks like the left blew it. The next mayor of Chicago is likely to be a progressive’s worst nightmare: Rahm Emanuel.

And Steve Rhodes in the Beachwood Reporter:

[Del Valle] has gotten surprisingly little support from so-called Lakefront liberals and progressives; would also have made for the best “minority consensus” candidate. Clearly the only scandal-free candidate whose background on the education committee in the General Assembly as well as a stellar test run of sorts in the admittedly small city clerk’s office should have meant more than it has. His neighborhood-centric platform is just what Chicago needs but powerful interests and the hypnotized masses seem hell-bent on perpetuating the Potemkin Village of China-loving Chicago.

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. For all the fuss over Emanuel’s residency and the predictable back-and-forth over whether he’s Chicago enough, I’ve always thought Emanuel’s DC ties would greatly benefit him, especially with the business community.

Daley the Elder was one of the most powerful men in Washington when he was mayor of Chicago, a friend to Kennedy and Johnson during the years when increased federal spending, particularly during the Great Society–for instance, when Lyndon Johnson created the Office of Economic Opportunity, he placed it under the management of Sargent Shriver, former Merchandise Mart manager and Chicago School Board member. And as Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor detail in American Pharaoh, Daley not only received a lot of money from the OEO, he did a much better job of avoiding restrictions on its use than his mayoral peers.

And connections like that have continued Chicago’s outsize influence on the Democratic party: Bill Daley has long been one of the most powerful men in the party, and he’s now replacing Emanuel (a Richard M. protege) as chief of staff under Barack Obama (a Richard M. ally), passing David Axelrod (Richard M.’s old campaign director, who got his start in politics working for Paul Simon, a independent ally of Richard J.) on the latter’s return to Chicago.

(Harold Washington? He won with 10% of the white vote against two white machine candidates. And he did three years in the U.S. House of representatives.)

In 1989, the Reader’s David Moberg wrote a story called “The Fuel of a New Machine,” and despite its age, it might be the most relevant read you’ll find for the 2011 election; it’s about how big business and big money supplanted old-school “machine” style Chicago politics:

Of course, the big donors profess admiration for Daley as a leader. But there is good reason to doubt that they support him for his own personal qualities as much as for what he symbolizes. In a survey conducted by Crain’s Chicago Business, executives overwhelmingly favored Daley, but only 8 percent did so because they thought he would do a good job, 2 percent because he inspired confidence, and 1 percent because of his intelligence. More–roughly 25 percent on each count–were impressed with his experience, his origins with a political family, and his being “in tune with business.”

They backed him, the pollster concluded, because they think “Daley is one of us though we can’t put a finger on why.” In that sense, Daley may be right that these contributors can’t buy him. They don’t need to. As one citizen-group lobbyist says, “Daley will be friendly to those guys, but he would be friendly if they gave half as much. It’s the social forces between the two candidates that’s at issue in this election. The mainstream business community is trying to buy back city government.” And Daley is their broker, a man who largely sees eye to eye with them.

[snip]

For developers, a “stable climate” means a mayor “who will be in there a long time,” says a public-interest planner. “If you know how things are run and that it will be stable eight or ten years, you can sit back and take it easy. The assumption is that once Daley gets in, he will solidify power. [They feel] democracy is terribly inefficient.”

That Crain’s reference reminded me of a November 2010 Crain’s article: “Corporate Chicago makes its mayoral pick: Rahm Emanuel.” It’s behind a paywall now, but replace “Daley” with “Emanuel” and you get the idea (Gery Chico got a few nods).

It makes sense: Emanuel has ties to Daley; ties to DC power; ties to the local business community from his stint as an investment banker (here’s a good rundown of what deals Emanuel worked on in the private sector), and a history as a hard-nosed negotiator for Bill Clinton’s free-trade-friendly administration. If there’s been a sense of unease about Mayor Daley’s surprise departure, Emanuel plausibly represents an easy landing.

And business ties have aided Emanuel with his already substantial gifts as a fundraiser, which has given him a strong television presence among a wide field of candidates, a much bigger advantage than it used to be. As David Bernstein wrote in his lengthy September 2008 comparison of the two Mayor Daleys:

By the time Richard M. Daley became mayor in 1989, the Machine of the old days was “dead, dead, dead,” as Harold Washington had famously declared. Television advertising had all but replaced precinct captains for attracting votes. As Daley I’s longtime press secretary, Earl Bush, noted in the early 1980s, “A bucket of coal won’t buy anybody today.”

He’s finally starting to face some substantial pushback, though–because of an ad. His “Service” spot, run during the Super Bowl, said “city government is not an employment agency. It is delivering a service to the residents and the taxpayers of the city…. That means making sure everybody that works for the city government knows that they’re actually a public servant representing and helping the people that pay them.” This caused some consternation from local union heads, as Zorn notes, making a previously uneasy relationship icy.

It will be interesting to see if Emanuel’s ad, and the aggressive response of both union members and Gery Chico, do anything much to Emanuel’s lead. This is a politically difficult time for unions; reading back through some old issues of Chicago, I found a December 2004 story about jobs, the city budget, and city hall. James Ylesia Jr. wrote:

Labor unions have always wielded considerable influence at City Hall, but their power has waned under Daley. “In the old days, under the Old Man [Richard J. Daley], the unions got half the jobs and the politicians got half,” the political operative says. Unions get “a lot less than that now.”

And for all the discussion about the “bad timing” of the ad, coming on the heels of a major snowstorm, it also came around the time Al Sanchez was sentenced.

With only two weeks left, it’s starting to look like it’ll take some exceedingly clever campaigning from Chico to even get to a runoff.

PS: I’m not sure I can take another use of the nickname “Rahmbo” or a dead-fish reference, but if you’re looking for fresh ways to describe Emanuel’s distinctive personality, former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers had a good one: “Alan Alda with an Uzi.”

Share

Advertisement

Comments to this blog are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, and irrelevancies.

Submit your comment