Despite President Obama’s personal intervention, Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s “Mayor 1%,” has been forced into a runoff with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. This is a very significant expression of the huge desire nationally for an alternative to corporate politics, whether in Republican or Democratic guise.
Rahm outspent the four other candidates in the open primary almost twelve to one, using money collected from corporations and the wealthy. Rahm’s policies have centered on attracting corporate headquarters to downtown, attacking unions and public education, and making working people pay for the fiscal crisis. Working-class neighborhoods are crumbling while working people face high sales taxes and other regressive measures. For the one-fifth of Chicagoans living on $16,100 or less, affordable housing is an almost impossible dream.
Chuy has adopted a populist, anti-establishment tone and, undoubtedly, large numbers of working people in Chicago will be using a vote for him on April 7 to get rid of Emanuel. Unfortunately, as this paper goes to press, Chuy, who comes out of the Democratic establishment himself – albeit its more populist wing – has not articulated a fighting alternative to Rahm’s soak-the-poor regime. Nor is the campaign mobilizing working people into the type of social movement that must back up a real left electoral challenge.
The tragedy of the primary is that it shows the possibility of an independent, labor-backed, combative election campaign to seriously challenge the Democratic Party establishment. This could have developed if Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union and leader of the 2012 teachers’ strike, had not been forced to withdraw due to health reasons. Garcia could still take up a bold program of taxing the rich and corporations to fill the city’s massive budget gap. But with the runoff coming up on April 7, time is short.