Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just got spanked. Despite a campaign war chest of more than $15 million and the support of President Barack Obama, the former Congressman and White House chief of staff could not avoid a run-off in the non-partisan mayoral election.
Garnering 45 percent of the vote to runner-up Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 34 percent, he did not clear the 50-percent bar for victory. Emanuel, the darling of the mainstream Democratic Party, has earned the dubious distinction of being in the first Chicago mayoral runoff in nearly 20 years. He also runs the risk of being the first incumbent mayor ousted since Harold Washington beat Jane Byrne in 1983.
The man who delivered the Emanuel whipping, Chuy Garcia, is a county commissioner and former alderman. His base is the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago, the Latino community, and the teachers’ union. He pounded on the theme of income inequality and exploited the widespread perception that Emanuel is arrogant and removed from poor people. Indeed, most of Emanuel’s support came from wealthy White voters who helped raise his large campaign fund. Garcia didn’t have a fraction of Emanuel’s money, but he had a large cadre of volunteers to help deliver his votes.
There were three other candidates in the race, and their combined 20 percent of the vote will likely determine the outcome of the April 7 election. Just a day after the election, both Emanuel and Garcia were courting their competitors, seeking their endorsements. So far, those opponents have been noncommittal.
Emanuel’s loss is a major setback to the Democratic establishment. Voters are tired of income inequality being acknowledged, with nothing being done about it. Their only recourse is the vote, and on Feb. 24 in Chicago, they used it.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel rode to victory on the coats of Blacks four years ago with 58 percent of the votes in the six wards that are more than 90 percent Black. This time, he won 42 to 45 percent of those same wards. Blacks may determine the victor of the April 7 election.
Another possible Democratic setback is looming as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) weighs the possibility of challenging former Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.
Warren has been portrayed as a champion of the people, especially where consumer protection and financial matters are concerned. She has raised her voice against financial skullduggery by banking institutions, been a critic of attempts to weaken the Dodd-Frank bill, and a defender of consumer rights.
The architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Warren has been the darling of the left, and has enhanced that status with her travel to many progressive gatherings. While she has demurred when asked if she will run for president, her replies, if somewhat definite, also seem coy. Additionally, there have been efforts to draft her into running, with online petitions and other efforts.
While Warren seems to have little baggage, Hilary Rodham Clinton seems less than invincible. Questions have been raised about the Clinton Foundation and the sources of its money, especially when this money has come from foreign governments that have mixed relationships with the United States.
Other questions have been raised about the high six-figure speeches Clinton gives and the audiences she gives them to. Certainly, she is entitled to earn what the market will bear, but some say those who foot the bill are the very Wall Street scions that Elizabeth Warren rails against.
Could Elizabeth Warren seriously challenge Clinton? Is there a chance that she could win the Democratic nomination? If she chooses to enter the presidential race in the next several months, she will be entering the race at about the time Barack Obama did eight years ago. Like Obama, she has penned an autographical book that explains the origins of her populist views. And like Obama, she has the chance of “catching on” with voters.
After Clinton, the only competition Warren is likely to have for the Democratic nomination is Vice President Joe Biden. But Biden, at 73, may be considered too old to be considered a viable choice for president. Biden also has a history of both oral and behavioral gaffes, most recently offering a rather intimate whisper into the ear of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s wife Stephanie at Carter’s swearing in.
Whether she enters the race or not, Warren’s very presence pushes Clinton to the left on populist economic issues. And if Warren enters the race and pulls three or four states, and about 20 percent of the popular vote, she offers Clinton a serious challenge. If these “draft Warren” petitions catch on and hundreds of thousands of signatures are gathered, that too, presents a challenge to Hilary Clinton.
Voters are looking for alternatives, and Democrats aren’t providing them. Instead, they are offering a party line that inhibits discussion of issues and hews to the inevitability of party favorites. Emanuel’s defeat and the Warren challenge to Hilary Clinton suggest that the party line is unsatisfactory.
Julianne Malveaux is a D.C.-based economist and writer and president emerita of Bennett College for Women.
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