“No one I know could afford to live overlooking Millennium Park. So it’s like there are two Chicagos: one for Rahm and his friends and one for the rest of us. The new Chicago glitters from the skyscrapers, but it’s still dirty and broken down for the rest of us.” -Anonymous respondent to a New York Times Reader Response Survey
Chicago politics have always been rough and tumble, from the earliest days of the Republican and Democratic machines in the late 19th century to the Daley dynasty that has ruled the city on and off since the mid-1950s. The city’s mayors usually have outsized influence not only on municipal affairs but on state politics in Illinois as well.
Current Mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is no exception to the rule. This made it something of a surprise when on Feb. 24 he failed to receive the 50% of the vote needed to win a second term, forcing a runoff election with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a progressive Cook County Commissioner with no real national profile.
The notoriously thin-skinned Emanuel, also previously an investment banker, former congressman and Bill Clinton’s chief fundraiser during his 1992 campaign, has presided over the city’s neo-liberal policies that have closed schools and mental health facilities while giving generous subsidies to well-connected real estate developers.
Toss in an epidemic of gun violence and incredibly abusive police practices targeting mostly black and brown citizens and you begin to understand how Emanuel has earned the nickname Mayor 1%, and with it, the ire of many voters.
In some ways, Rahm Emanuel’s cascade of calamities points to larger problems within a Democratic party that is being tugged by neo-liberals of the Clinton/Obama school, on the one hand, and progressive forces who’ve become more vocal in their opposition to the long rightward drift of the party, on the other.
A defeat for the Mayor this April could mean the beginning of a new era not only for Chicago, but for urban areas throughout the U.S., following closely on the heels of progressive mayoral victories in New York and Pittsburgh. It raises the hope that Democratic politicians might be forced to finally listen to their base over their donors or suffer the consequences of a progressive wave.
Just ask the successful establishment Republicans who at first dismissed the Tea Party movement – that is, if you can find any.
Rahm the Neo-Liberal “Reformer”
It not like Chicago’s problems began under Emanuel. The city has been undergoing a decades long transition into what is now a deeply divided place. Over the years, the middle class has migrated to the suburbs leaving behind a small elite of wealthy and upper middle class who dominate a few neighborhoods in the North and Northwest of the city, and the urban poor “who are stuck with failing schools, high crime, and a shrinking network of bus lines.”
Read more at Occupy.com.