Been a busy and difficult month and I’m going to make an effort to get back to documenting the pregnancy as there’s been a lot to discuss. But here’s a reading I did yesterday at The Paper Machete, a live weekly magazine show (or a salon in a saloon). If you’re in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood any given Saturday at 3pm, stop by Ricochet’s for the show. It’s really a great example of Chicago’s living artistic bar culture.
This reading – about the Chicago mayoral race – ended up very much like a blog post due to the way my brain is wired to write about current events like this. So it felt right to post it here, with links. Reading it again, it reads pretty rough on Fioretti and Emanuel but that’s mainly because this is the most important mayoral race in two decades and there’s been little from either of them on issues of crime, poverty, the city budget, etc. so far. As voters, we should demand more.
Immediately after Mayor Daley’s September 7th announcement that he would not seek re-election, everything we thought we knew about Chicago politics seemed wrong. Early on, the city seemed destined to become a Rubik’s Cube of shifting coalitions, alliances and power structures: a campaign that wouldn’t be so much a horse race as a rodeo. Typifying this anything-goes mentality was an announcement on September 20th from Alderman Sandi Jackson that both she and her husband Jesse Jackson Jr were each considering a run for mayor…until the Sun-Times ran a story the next day that clotheslined them both with some untoward allegations.
Now, when I say “early on” consider that this happened less than a month ago but seems like such ancient history that if you ask most people what Jackson Jr. was accused of, all they’ll be able to come up with is something akin to a Google search: “Uh…Blagojevich, senate seat, blond in a bikini.”
Since then the field has narrowed considerably but there are still plenty of questions. EarlyandOften.org lists 55 candidates who, in the last month, were either circulating, considering, rumored to be considering or just wanted their name in the papers. MayoralScoreCard.com now has the field down to 12 candidates running and five circulating. Of the candidates who are running, five don’t have any cash on hand and the candidates who are circulating range from Rev. James Meeks and Sheriff Tom Dart – both of whom could cause some momentous shifts in the weeks ahead – to Carol Moseley Braun whose campaign started 262 thousand dollars in the hole so her efforts look less like running for office and more like a bake sale peddling stale Rice Krispie treats.
So with nominating petitions due in little less than a month and those early volcanic predictions far in the rearview, what on paper still seems like a potentially vibrant race is currently giving us two leading declared candidates: 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti and former Chief of Staff Rahm “Fucking” Emanuel. But even these gentlemens’ campaigns could charitably be described as “still getting their shit together.”
This week, Fioretti announced that he would be out of the game for two weeks because he needed to get his tonsils out. Yes, nothing says “Ready To Lead On Day One” like an image of Fioretti ringing the nurse for some ice cream. Depending on how ridiculous things get, we might end up reading some racially-coded item in Michael Sneed’s column about how Fioretti ordered Neapolitan flavored ice cream because he’s committed to being a mayor for all the people of Chicago be they white, black, brown or strawberry.
As for Rahm Emanuel, NBC’s The Ward Room reported yesterday that the candidate sent his supporters a letter soliciting volunteers to circulate nominating petitions this weekend. The letter began: “Dear First Name.”
The funny thing is, the most interesting things about the Rahm Emanuel campaign are happening online and most of it doesn’t involve the candidate at all. Sure, Rahm’s got 29,000 Likes on Facebook and got out there early with a fancy, but familiar-looking website done up in a style that, if it were a font, would be described as Obama Hope Extra Bold, but that’s somewhat overshadowed by what’s happening on Twitter where the campaign appears to have gone through three Twitter accounts in the last two weeks, losing whatever momentum he built up each time. The lack of a definitive presence in this space means that the fake @MayorEmanuel parody account has four times as many followers as the official @RahmEmanuel account and is beating him on matters of openness and transparency as well: The real Rahm had nothing to say on the “Dear First Name” problem while the fake Rahm said “Dear First Name, Plouffe assures me that we’re going to have an actual fucking communications team in place soon. The intern is a cocktard.”
There’s even a website called rahmfacts.com and even though A) there appear to be only ten facts in total and B) they’re all true they still read as if they’re about a mythical Chuck Norris-ian political figure:
RAHM EMANUEL TELLS PEOPLE TO FUCK OFF BY SHOWING THEM THE SPACE WHERE HIS RIGHT MIDDLE FINGER USED TO BE
WE WOULD ALL HAVE HEALTHCARE IF BILL CLINTON HAD LISTENED TO RAHM EMANUEL’S ADVICE
RAHM EMANUEL REGULARLY CALLS HIS CHILDREN “MESHUGANAS”
This is all Very Exciting…and yet it isn’t. People who are true fans of democracy and reform should be more excited by a rough Chicago election than fake Twitter accounts if change is going to be less of a noun and more of a verb. Before Mayor Daley announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, it looked as if we’d get exactly that. Four long-serving Daley allies in the City Council announced they would not seek re-election and a handful of reform-minded potential candidates including Fioretti, 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores, 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waugespack, State Rep John Fritchey, Congressman Mike Quigley and City Inspector General David Hoffman all seemed poised to run.
While there are some hints that Rahm would be a reform candidate, specifically a meeting last month with Fritchey and an announcement that Rahm supports listing the city’s TIF slush funds in the actual budget and not in the traditional second set of cooked books, there’s been little to suggest he wouldn’t continue Daley’s pro-business, big-splash, downtown-based style of rule. Progressives from the SEIU Illinois State Council to Progress Illinois think Rahm would be, at best, a liberal moderate who supports business interests. Money equals power and the former Daley fundraiser and investment banker is toting around about $1.2 million of it right now.
All of which helps explain why Wags, Fritchey, Quigley and Hoffman all pulled a musical chairs and sat down before Fioretti even heard the music stop. This week Flores bowed out and threw his support to former Chicago S
chool Board president Gerry Chico while Congressman Luis Guiterrez declared he wasn’t running either. Ramsin Canon of Gapers Block points out Guiterrez’s announcement came on the heels of a meeting with Dart and there’s still the possibility of a black coalition forming to challenge Rahm. Some of these meetings and deals might amount to something but at this point I’ve seen more stable alliances during three-legged races at church picnics, which means we’ll have a slate of weak candidates and one very strong one. IIf recent history is any indication, Chicago will hold its nose and vote for the Daley-like Rahm because, damnit, Millennium Park is pretty even if it is for tourists and who wants snow on the streets in February?
There are many months left in this campaign but what started out as the most interesting Chicago mayoral race in twenty-three years now looks to be the least interesting race in the next five. That’s probably what Fritchey, Wags and the rest foresaw when they beat a strategic retreat. Most political strategists will tell you that having something to run against is as important as having something to run for. All the people who were rumored to be planning “reform” runs for mayor had something to run against when Daley was still in the race. Now they don’t. A few well-placed stump speeches about money for more cops on the street and the evils of TIFs and Rahm becomes the great white hope. Better for the reform crowd to bide their time now, not waste talent and treasure in a losing campaign, firm up the new coalitions, wait for Rahm to get blamed for most of Daley’s mess then swoop in after a few years and save the day.
But Canon – in the first of a series of posts titled “Modeling An Open Chicago” – argues the best way for Chicagoans to take their city back isn’t for us to wait on a new Harold Washington to lead the disenfranchised into a new coalition in 2015 but to strengthen the neighborhood-based structures that already exist and return economic development back to the neighborhoods.
Of course, this requires much more than voting. It requires attending CAPS meetings, joining local school councils or neighborhood planning associations and stepping foot inside our ward offices for more than just parking permits.
When that happens, a candidate on Twitter who sends out letters addressed to “Dear First Name” will be a leader without followers. And that’s just a guy taking a walk.
One last note on this piece: I realized afterward that there were workers from both the Fioretti and Emanuel campaigns in the audience, which…yeah.
UPDATE: Is Rahm Clearing The Field?