Why Rahm Emanuel Won

Meet the new boss, the logical next step after the old boss: Rahm Emanuel will replace Mayor Daley as the mayor of Chicago after a convincing win that emerged from money, power, and history.

I.

Rahm Emanuel swept back into his hometown a bit more than three months ago, and quickly but not hastily assembled a campaign that won easily last night. Ken Snyder, a strategist for Gery Chico, compared him to a “hurricane”: “He had $13 million. He had two beloved presidents. He had Hollywood stars. He had the tacit support of [retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley]. Not mention a hell of a resume."  He’s the new boss, says John Kass. But the changes to Chicago that swept Emanuel into office–and into his role as “boss"–have been developing for years. Chico wasn’t just going up against a hurricane: he was going up against the momentum of Chicago political history.

A good place to start is actually with a 22-year-old piece by David Moberg from the Chicago Reader, “The Fuel of a New Machine,” which details the evolving role of money in Chicago mayoral elections. Big money hasn’t always been dominant–Jane Byrne won her first election on a shoestring, and Harold Washington won his first with the help of a remarkable haul of small donations–but when comes to the two mayors who defined Chicago in the second half of the 20th century, big business has always played a vital role. It’s just been different industries, and different roles, as the city has evolved.

The first form of the new machine emerged from the elder Daley’s reign:

The relationship between money and the machine has changed over the decades. “It was a more direct corruption in early periods of machine history,” observes former alderman Dick Simpson, now a professor of political science at the University of Illinois. “You would simply bribe officials, and they would spend what they needed on campaigns. Even in the 60s there was a standard amount for zoning changes.” Simpson points out that since the 70s, 13 aldermen have gone to jail, “so the practice is not dead.”

But generally, Simpson says, “with Mayor Daley, as far as anyone knows, you didn’t slip money in an envelope. When Daley remade the machine, that way of buying influence changed. By the late 60s, if you had a multimillion-dollar contract, it was more of an alliance between institutions and political leaders. It wasn’t paying $500 and getting a vote. It was a knitting together of institutions, but businesses made sure Daley knew they had contributed to the party and to the mayor.”

By the time his son was running for mayor, the nature of big donors began to change from “a coalition of real-estate developers, construction firms, building-trade unions, and downtown business interests” to a more strictly white-collar coalition:

Contractors doing business with the city have been generous this year with Daley and with incumbent Eugene Sawyer. But in Daley’s case they’ve been swamped by lawyers, developers, and other big business contributors. By mid-March, Tim Evans campaign researchers had identified lawyers as the source of 17 percent of Daley’s money and real estate developers, and contractors as the source of 19 percent. A partial recheck of their work suggests that they were slightly understating those shares.

The results, given yesterday’s turnout, may sound familiar:

In the past decade, but especially with the Daley and Sawyer campaigns, Chicago has entered the era of big-money, television-dominated politics, setting a dubious record as the city with the most costly mayoral races in the nation. Of course local politics reflects the trend in national races; but many blame the Democrats’ national shift to blockbuster fund-raising and TV advertising for the declining enthusiasm of their traditional supporters, and the same trends in Chicago may be partly responsible (along with a lack of passion for either Daley or Sawyer) for the low turnout in last month’s primary election.

Sure enough, if you look at the big backers behind Emanuel and Chico, the numbers play out Moberg’s thesis two decades later. I took a look at Rahm Emanuel’s top 73 individual contributions–i.e. those of $50k and up–using data from the Illinois State Board of Elections and sorted them, broadly, by origin. 45 came from financial institutions, financial professionals, or spouses of financial professionals (three were from counted twice, being separate contributions from the same sources, and I couldn’t determine the particular industry of one contribution). Gery Chico received no contributions of $50k, so I looked at his top 73 contributions, ranging from $5k to $30k. Eight came from financial institutions or professionals, 10 if you count insurance (I couldn’t determine the industry type of five contributions); his top 73 donors reflected strong support from construction and services (livery, food, commercial cleaning), and were generally more broad-based across industries than Emanuel’s contributions.

Emanuel’s base of money and power, quite simply, more closely resembles that of Richard M. Daley’s in 2011–the role of the boss as it evolved from his father’s reign, to his early days as mayor, to the time when he leaves office. As David Bernstein put it in his lengthy 2008 Chicago cover story, which compared the father and son:

Mike Royko titled his 1971 biography of Richard J. Daley Boss, and the term perfectly fit the man and the times. When Chicago was still a lunchpail town, Daley I epitomized the hard-nosed, hard-driving chief of a gritty, rusting enterprise. Four decades later, in an era dominated by Wall Street, real estate, and the service economy, his son likes to describe himself as the CEO of the city, and that term also makes a nice fit, with its white-collar, corner-office connotations, its suggestion of efficiencies and eager MBAs.

I figured Emanuel would win back in November when Crain’s did an invaluable survey of Chicago business leaders: “Corporate Chicago makes its mayoral pick: Rahm Emanuel.” It’s now behind a paywall, but you get the idea–it’s similar to what Crain’s found back in 1989, as described by Moberg. If Richard M. Daley was the mayor Chicago wanted, and we wanted him for a generation, Emanuel was always the most likely successor.

II.

But Chicago is still a city of neighborhoods, as the saying goes, so I’d be remiss not to look at how Emanuel won across the city–and he really did win across it. Emanuel “lost,” by which I mean another candidate got more votes than he did, in 10 wards. Broadly speaking, Emanuel lost in old-machine wards and in Latino wards, but for more specific reasons than race, as the CNC’s Dan Mihalopoulos suggests:

Chico appeared to enjoy a majority of votes in four wards — the 14th, 23rd, 12th and 10th. The aldermen of those wards had endorsed him, including powerful Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke, the 14th Ward alderman and Democratic boss for more than four decades.

Chico also won a plurality in some clout-heavy wards that historically have dominated City Hall, including Daley’s native 11th as well as the 19th and 13th.

That accounts for most of Chico’s wins, but not all: he beat Emanuel in the 41st Ward, probably Chicago’s most conservative–it’s been home to Chicago’s only Republican alderman, and was the only ward in the city to cast more than 40% of its vote for Bill Brady.

In a long, prescient, and very critical piece published just days before the election, Achy Obejas called Chico the “consensus white candidate.” Agree or disagree, it at least tracks with where some of Chico’s support came from. Ben Joravsky also gave a more detailed portrait of Chico’s relationship to the machine in his January Reader cover story, “Chico and the Man.”

As for the black vote, Emanuel won every black-majority ward easily. In the six wards that are more than 90% black, Emanuel won at least 58% of the vote. Carol Moseley Braun beat Chico in all those wards, but got no more than 24% of the vote in any. Angela Caputo of the Chicago Reporter looked further into the numbers, and found that Emanuel had more support in black-majority wards than all the other candidates combined.

Emanuel dominated in the Loop, River North, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park, as I suspect everyone suspected, winning more than 70% of the vote in the 42nd, 43rd, and 44th wards: basically from the South Loop along the lake through Lakeview, easily the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods and its gravitational center (can we call them “lakefront neoliberals” now?).

Del Valle was really only competitive in the 26th Ward, which finished 38% for Emanuel, 36% for Del Valle, and 21% for Chico.

III.

I also figured Emanuel would win easily after having dinner with a friend of mine the Sunday before the election. My friend has strong progressive bona fides and has followed city politics for years–he works in the city, though he’s lived in the suburbs for awhile. When I asked him who he would vote for if he could, he said that Del Valle was ideologically appealing, but he doubted whether Del Valle had the clout, the connections, and the personality to run the City of Chicago. (Del Valle himself said that he wanted to cede some of the mayor’s power to the city council–a novel and even noble idea, but one that may have reminded some of the Council Wars of the ’80s.)

The flip side of that is that the criticisms leveled at Emanuel–about his temperament, his autocratic tendencies, his power-broker resume, his tight connections to the rich, powerful and famous, his years in Washington and in the financial industry–can alternately be viewed, if you’re so inclined, as essential traits for the job. That’s certainly how the Tribune and Sun-Times editorial boards spun them. And when a candidate’s weaknesses are also his strengths, he’s in an ideal position.

Rahm Emanuel is candidate Chicago wanted (or at least the disappointing percentage of the city that showed up to vote). While there were distinct patterns of support, Emanuel mostly dominated across race, class, and neighborhood. In many ways he’s an unsurprising successor to Mayor Daley, the logical next step when you look at the city’s recent history and preferences. The question is whether he’ll be the mayor the city needs.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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