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Chuy Garcia Forces Rahm Emanuel into a Runoff as the CTU Flexes Its Power

The mayor’s school closings came back to haunt him on Election Day, as the Chicago Teachers Union made its mark citywide. But Karen Lewis’s handpicked replacement has a lot of ground to cover in six weeks.

Chuy Garcia with wife Evelyn, February 24, 2015   Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

This morning, I awoke to sounds of Chuy Garcia’s victory rally—which, though Garcia finished 11 points behind Rahm Emanuel, certainly felt like a victory rally. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired,” I heard again. “We’re still here, we’re still running, and we’re going to win,” I heard again.

But after having some time to process the surprise—no one, outside of the Garcia camp, seemed to expect he’d survive to a runoff—I thought back to another passage in Garcia’s speech. It’s bigger than a soundbite, but it was an effective piece of rhetoric. (And, objective as I try to be, it certainly touched on my anxieties as a new parent in the city.)

“You wanted to know who this campaign is for? It’s for Erika Wozniak,” Garcia said. “One lone fifth grade teacher. She’s been teaching for 11 years now. She’s devoted her whole life to our kids. Well, Erika told me about one of her favorite students—a little girl, smart as a whip, who loved her friends, loved her teachers, loved her school. One day, that little girl’s parents came in and told Erika, the teacher, they had to move to the suburbs.

“Why? Because she was squeezed into a classroom with 35 other kids, and it just wasn’t fair. That little girl left Chicago. Her parents left Chicago. And it wasn’t just Erika’s loss. It was Chicago’s loss. It was our loss. We lost over 200,000 people [over] the last two decades. 200,000 people like Erika’s fifth-grade student, whose parents didn’t want her stuffed into an overcrowded classroom.”

(Wozniak recorded a video for Garcia’s campaign about this.)

And I also thought about how some of the loudest noise of the night came when Garcia asked the crowd, “are there teachers in the house?”

When it started to look likely that Rahm Emanuel wouldn’t escape a runoff, and Garcia’s DJ put on the official song of political optimism, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Anne Elizabeth Moore asked: “Who’s overlaying election results on the school closures map? Just makin’ sure it gets on the to-do list.”

Well, that’s easy enough. The harder question is: which election results speak loudest? Fortunately, Scott Kennedy, who runs the inestimable data site Illinois Election Data, built an election-night tracker with a very, very useful addition. Since the ward boundaries changed between mayoral elections, he used GIS software to translate the old wards to the new ones based on precinct boundaries (details here). “This is not exact for reasons I won’t bore you with but it’s pretty close,” he writes. “I think it will be interesting to see how the Mayor’s 2015 numbers compare to his 2011 numbers and this will give a better apples to apples comparison.”

And, thanks to his translation, you can get a sense of how Rahm Emanuel’s percentage of the vote dropped or increased in different parts of the city. And I think it presents compelling evidence, when overlaid on a map of the 49 school closings announced in 2013, that the school closures cost the mayor dearly, and gave the already well-organized Chicago Teachers Union momentum and support on a dreary, low-turnout day—which, the conventional wisdom usually suggests, goes to the incumbent. (Red is where Emanuel’s share of the vote fell; green, where it rose.)

 
Wards where Emanuel’s share of the vote rose since 2011 are shown in green; wards where it fell, red. Red dots show the 49 schools closed in 2013.

(Update: As Dan Sinker rightfully points out, you could also correlate the drop in Emanuel’s share with areas most affected by violence, like this timelapse of shootings. Better yet, this map of homicides and school closings. And a call for more police was a big part of Garcia’s campaign, as it was for many aldermanic candidates, though Steve Bogira questions whether it’s actually a good idea.)

But it’s not the only data to suggest the importance of school closings to yesterday’s results. Yesterday, I mentioned that the vast majority of aldermanic challengers supported an elected school board. More than putting additional cops on the street, more than TIF reform, more than anything, by a significant margin.

And a referendum on the issue, on the ballot in many wards, was overwhelmingly popular. In the 37 wards it was on the ballot in, it averaged 89 percent in support of an elected school board—higher than the citywide support for paid leave for workers (82 percent), higher than support for campaign finance reform (79 percent), higher than mandatory domestic-abuse classes for abusers employed by the city (87 percent).

“Good grief. Who’s going to vote against those?” the Tribune asked about the three citywide referenda, which were put on the ballot to bloc-block the school board referendum. “You might as well ask voters if they’d like their drinking water clean or contaminated. Hmmm. We’ll go with clean.” But the school-board question made it on the ballot in the majority of wards, and it beat the “do-you-like-apple-pie” questions handily.

Then there were the aldermanic races. My colleague Carol Felsenthal spoke with the CTU’s Jesse Sharkey this morning, still riding the high of a strong showing from the union’s candidates:

We endorsed 22 aldermanic candidates, including five CTU members, and did extremely well. Three of our CTU members—Susan Sadlowski Garza in the 10th, Tim Meegan in the 33rd, and Tara Stamps in 37th—are in runoffs, and two are in runoffs against multi-term incumbents. In the 33rd ward, our candidate is in a runoff against Deb Mell, Dick Mell’s daughter. Imagine that.

We had outright wins with Carlos Ramirez-Rosa in the 35th ward and David Moore in the 17th. We endorsed five of the seven City Council Progressive Caucus members. All of them won. And CTU played a heavy role in the 37th ward, where Tara Stamps forced the incumbent, Emma Mitts, into a runoff. The heart of the Stamps organization was west side teachers and paraprofessionals. If you went out to the west side you’d have seen a lot of us.

The 37th Ward was one of three in which—based on Kennedy’s data—Rahm Emanuel’s share of the vote dropped by more than 20 percent. (All three of those wards are contiguous on the central-west side, and all surround the densest cluster of school closings.)

Felsenthal’s interview reminded me of another moment last night. When she asked him what stood out about Garcia’s election-night party, he said: “When Luis Gutierrez [who endorsed Rahm] addressed the crowd at Rahm’s event, you should have heard our people watching on the TV monitors. Gutierrez got the strongest reaction of all. Booed, roundly booed.”

There’s a backstory here. Felsenthal interviewed Gutierrez in 2011, who was then campaigning for Gery Chico and pounding Emanuel on NAFTA. The veteran congressman came over to Emanuel’s side this year, and caught much more flak from the crowd when he came on the television than Emanuel himself. “Rahm doesn’t have a great history in the immigrant-rights community,” Sharkey told Felsenthal. “He very cynically used the issues. Now he understands there are votes attached to that in a city of immigrants.”

Garcia, meanwhile, has a record to run on. “I knew him through my work in the immigrants’ rights movement,” Garcia’s young field director, Abdelnasser Rashid, told me. Prior to becoming a political consultant, Rashid worked for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Garcia’s best-known effort as a Cook County commissioner was leading the passage of an ordinance to refuse the detention of immigrants unless the feds paid the bill for their mandate.

“Working with Chuy was the obvious choice,” Rashid said. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you have a strong ground game.”

But Chuy Garcia’s background as an immigrant and his work on immigrants’ rights don’t make him a shoe-in for the Hispanic vote. According to Kennedy’s data, Garcia won a bare majority, 52 percent, in majority-Hispanic wards. The ward in which Emanuel increased his vote by the highest percentage, something that surprised Kennedy, was the 13th Ward, a majority-Hispanic (72 percent) southwest-side ward that Gery Chico did well in under its previous incarnation. Emanuel broke 50 percent there, in the heart of Madigan territory. The mayor’s second-biggest percentage gain was in the 14th ward, one that Chico dominated. That year Chico did well in “‘die-hard Daley wards’ with numerous city employees,” while Garcia’s path to the mayor’s office was derailed over a decade ago by the old Hispanic Democratic Organization that delivered so much of the vote to Daley.

One power broker wasn’t there last night, but her presence hovered over the occasion: CTU president Karen Lewis, who convinced Garcia to challenge Emanuel in her sted. “I spoke with her a little while ago,” Garcia said in his speech. “Karen said, ‘tell them this is about the new democracy that’s been ushered into the City of Chicago.”

That old democracy, though, remains powerful, as Garcia genuinely has a lot of ground to make up. Garcia finished 11.5 percentage points behind Emanuel; voters for Willie Wilson (10.6 percent), Bob Fioretti (7.4 percent), and Dock Walls (2.8) don’t represent suggest much margin for error. Garcia’s new democracy will have to reach back to the old one of Harold Washington, turning back the pages almost three decades in the next six weeks.

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