Naked Capitalism on Reclaiming the Democratic Party


Chicago Mayoral Race Results: “Rahm, They Tell Me You Are Crooked, and I Answer: Yes, It Is True. Period.”

Posted on April 10, 2015 by

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again. –Carl Sandburg, Chicago

Ian Welsh got it right in 2010. These words are still true today:

The left must be seen to repudiate Obama, and they must be seen to take him down. If the left does not do this, left wing politics and policies will be discredited with Obama. This is important not as a matter of partisan or ideological preference, it is important because left wing policies work. It is necessary to move back to strongly progressive taxation, it is necessary to force the rich to take their losses, it is necessary to deal with global warming, it is necessary to deal with the fact that the era of cheap oil is over, it is necessary to stop the offshoring engine which is destroyin the American middle class.

Only left wing solutions to these problems will work. America has spent 30 years, since Reagan, trying to fix its problems by going more and more right wing, and it has been a disaster. Each additional step to the right has made the problem worse.

The first step to fixing America is fixing the Democratic party, and the first step in fixing the Democratic party is fixing Barack Obama and destroying, forever, publicly and in the most high profile way possible, the idea that Democrats can ignore and abuse their own base. The lies spewed by corporate media figures who earn millions of dollars a year, that every time the Democrats lose, it is because they were too left wing, so more tax cuts are necessary, must end.

Taking Rahm down — in addition to being a simple pleasure in itself — would have helped fix the Democratic party. It didn’t happen. Why, and what next?

Why did Rahm Win?

First, Rahm got lucky, RJ Eskow:

Emanuel had a surfeit of luck. Karen Lewis, the immensely popular head of the Chicago Teachers Union, led Emanuel 45 percent to 36 percent in head-to-head polling last July after confronting the mayor before and during a 2012 teachers’ strike. Tragically, Lewis was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor and was unable to run. That left Garcia short on time and resources with which to overtake the cash-rich incumbent. Another formidable challenger who chose not to run was Toni Preckwinkle, head of the Cook County Board of Supervisors.

Second, Garcia lost the black wards[1]. The Hill:

Black voters were the key swing constituency for Emanuel, even though the African-American candidate in the first election in February, Willie Wilson, backed Garcia, as did Jesse Jackson, Rep. Danny Davis (D) and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. Emanuel beat Garcia 58 percent to 42 percent amongst this group.

Third, Garcia lost the black wards because the “black misleadership class” held them for Rahm (and by extension, Obama). Black Agenda Report:

Rahm Emanuel’s biggest asset was the overwhelming support of Chicago’s well-established black political class of preachers, business types, “community leaders” and public officials. President Barack Obama himself came home to Chicago this year and in 2011 to campaign for Rahm and cut commercials for him. Nearly every prominent black elected official in town, Democrats all, came out for Rahm, for privatization, for gentrification, for austerity, for more of the same. This is the state of black politics in 2015, and the reason that Rahm Emanuel carried every single one of Chicago’s majority black wards.

A career Democrat politician himself, Chuy Garcia could talk about the injustice of high stakes testing and privatizing public schools. What Garcia simply could not do was explain to black audiences why almost every black politician in town including the black Chicago Democrat in the White House was riding with Rahm. To do so would have been to directly criticize the regime of black urban politics and the policies of the president himself, something even the most “progressive” career Democrat politicians don’t do.

Notice, however, that Democratic “progressives” are failing in exactly the same way Garcia did; they never mention this factor. Not Eskow, not Jim Dean, not Ilya Sheyman, not MoveOn, not Bold Progressives, not anybody in the Democratic nomenklatura. BAR interviewed a Garcia staffer, who described what might have been:

“To win, Chuy needed to carry black wards against Emanuel, to make discouraged voters in those neighborhoods come out,” a campaign staffer told Black Agenda Report.

“You do that by conducting an intense voter registration drive in those areas, and giving those people compelling reasons to come out. It could have been done. Chuy’s campaign was dealt a good hand, but they didn’t play it. The campaign failed to conduct a voter registration drive in black Chicago, and to emphasize the issues that could have set black Chicago on fire.”

“This was the winter and spring when Ferguson was on everybody’s lips. Chuy could have won wider and deeper support in black Chicago by focusing early and sustained attention on the corrupt and brutal practices of CPD, Chicago’s Police Department. He didn’t do that. It took weeks to get the Garcia campaign to endorse the drive for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture. It took weeks more to briefly draw Garcia’s attention to CPD’s black site at Homan Square, another controversy he declined to make a big sustained stink about. The campaign pissed away these key opportunities to mobilize black support. And the only jobs program they announced with actual numbers was Chuy’s proposal to hire a thousand extra cops.”

Garcia had a shot at winning more black votes than he did, but never took it. That’s because he’d rather lose as a “good Democrat” than win as a real one. Karen Lewis would not have been subject to the iron law of institutions, as Garcia — as well as Moveon, DFA, Bold Progressives, and all the rest of ‘em — clearly were.

Finally, Garcia didn’t clearly separate himself from Rahm on finance; austerity, in particular:

Instead we got Garcia, who steadfastly refused to draw up a bold policy program, opening himself up to easy criticisms by Emanuel that he had no real plan for the fiscal crisis facing the city. Even late in the campaign, he continued to use phrases like “shared sacrifice” (usually code words for additional austerity measures on the backs of workers) in describing how he would solve the city’s budget woes.

He refused to strongly endorse measures like a financial transactions tax.

So, as they tend to do, people voted for the real Rahm, instead of a fake one.

What Next for Chicago?

First, Democratic “centrists” take a few moments away from re-arranging the deck chairs to do the happy dance. Politico checks in with some “Democratic strategists.” The headline:

Rahm shows Hillary how to tame the left


To many Democrats, there are two possible lessons: First, that the professional left talks a much better game than it delivers even as it starts to make big promises about the presidential race. And second, that focusing voters on the progressive elements of a candidate’s record, as Emanuel did during his runoff, can blunt a challenge from an ineffective opponent.

“Rahm Emanuel is a progressive mayor, period,” said Paul Begala, a longtime Bill Clinton adviser and a friend of Emanuel who advises the pro-Hillary Clinton Priorities super PAC. “I don’t think people should say a right-wing Democrat won. I think you’ve got to actually look at what he did and what he ran on.”

“That’s the lesson for Hillary Clinton: You can run comfortably on a progressive agenda and win,” Begala said.

Really. Well, I hope Clinton doesn’t compromise with Jebbie on privatizing the Veteran’s Administration and call that “progressive,” is all I can say. And, too bad Elizabeth [genuflects] Warren didn’t endorse Chuy. Eh? But to resume…..

Second, the Board of Alderman got a little bit better. Labor Notes:

While the [Chicago Teachers Union-led campaign to oust Mayor Rahm Emanuel fell short, [ school counselor and CTU executive board member Susan Sadlowski Garza’s], victory is a boost for the council’s progressive caucus, which before the election included 7 members out of 50. Depending on the outcome of absentee ballot counts in several close races, the progressive caucus could increase to 12.

So, the next step would be to double-plus-a-smidge again, from 12 to 26, no?

Third, Emanual was, in fact, shoved a millimeter left on policy. Salon:

Despite their defeat, Chicago progressives were able to force Emanuel to the left. Last year, the mayor supported an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $13 [and why not $15?] an hour. After Garcia promised to end the speed camera program, Emanuel pulled cameras off 25 street corners.

Fourth, I hope for a Nixonion scandal scenario in Rahm’s second term. Remember, the Nixon adminstration imploded after stomping McGovern, even though (or perhaps because) Nixon ran the most vicious and effective political operation until Rove. And there’s plenty of scandal to go around, because selling off public property for cheap to insiders — that is, privatization — is just corrupt by definition, and Tiny Dancer being Tiny Dancer, we can expect him to double down. (Don’t believe Rahm’s “Honey, I’ve changed!” schtick for a minute). Commenter OIFVet lists some scandals in embryo:

“This is well beyond solving by moving the “diversion of tax monies” deck chairs around.” True enough, but it demonstrates part of the Chicago corruption playbook: if the unfunded liabilities are allowed to pile up long enough, Da Mare can simply say “The TIFs (or whatever diversionary program you may choose) would only address a small part of the liabilities, so let’s talk real solutions here rather than politicizing the program”. Voila: Da Mare appears statesman-like, and as an added bonus he can legitimately argue for deep cuts to needed programs, accelerating the money giveaways known as PPPs and continue to divert property taxes to the Pritzkers and such, and go after the unions. It’s a Chicago-style three-fer.

Regardless of the outcomes (“a Chicago-style three-fer”) all these pain points can be used to discredit Emanuel, if the left is willing to think of fighting neoliberalism as a permanent campaign, instead of an election cycle. In my book, the place to dig is Rahm’s sleazy private equity — sorry for the redundancy — backers. International Business Times:

Heading into the final days of campaigning for re-election, incumbent Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has faced intensifying criticism for being too close to the city’s financial elite. Precisely how close, though, remains a matter of conjecture — and most likely will remain so until after the Tuesday runoff vote. That’s because Emanuel’s administration has for weeks blocked the release of correspondence between his administration and one of the Democratic mayor’s top donors, Michael Sacks. The administration has also refused to release details about tens of millions of dollars in shadowy no-bid city payments to some of Emanuel’s largest campaign contributors.

Do tell. Funny, though, I don’t recall Chuy making any noise about this at all. Did I miss it?

Finally, the (dys)functional identity of Democratic and Republican leadership becomes more and more visible. It was Republican money that let Rahm outspend Garcia by 8 to 1, after all. As R.J Eskow points out:

The nickname Emanuel earned during this race was “Mayor 1 Percent,” and it’s a name which is likely to stick. That reflects a new reality for “centrists” in the Emanuel/Third Way mold: corporate-friendly policies bring serious political risk.

That’s because the squillionaires bought Emanuel his second term, and everybody knows it[2]. Forbes:

And it’s Emanuel’s linkages to Republicans and the rich that are dogging him as the race winds down. “We don’t need more Republicans saying nice things about Rahm,” one Emanuel campaign advisor told Forbes recently.

While Emanuel’s friendship with the billionaire financier and newly elected Republican governor Bruce Rauner are no secret, the Mayor’s other relationships with rich Republicans are getting headlines in the last few days.

The lead story in Friday’s New York Times business section was headlined “Chicago’s Odd Couple” about Emanuel and a “billionaire Republican investor.” The story focused on the Mayor’s “single biggest donor,” Kenneth Griffin, a multibillionaire who is chief executive of the investment firm Citadel.

I don’t know how the implications of that identity play out on the national stage, but it’s to be hoped that it opens up a space for Democrats to be Democrats, instead of ersatz Republicans. After all, Boss Tweed wasn’t boss forever, though I’m sure it seemed at the time he would be. Livin’ the dream!


It seems to me that the possibility for a Democratic victory in the Chicago mayoral race was there, but the stars just didn’t align. If Karen Lewis doesn’t get brain cancer, she could have done all the work on the ground that Chuy’s campaign manager wishes they had been allowed to do. The Guardian scoop on Rahm’s black site for torture cops gets used. #BlackLivesMatter gets leveraged. David Sirota’s work on Rahm’s corruption gets used. The Black Misleadership class gets knocked off their game a bit. Where the money really goes becomes an issue. And so on.

Nevertheless, the left didn’t defeat Rahm, and weren’t seen to. They didn’t collect a scalp. Next time!


[1] Garcia lost the poor, too. DNAinfo:

Nearly 60 percent of voters with an annual family income under $30,000 picked Emanuel, according to an Edison Research exit poll.

Sixty-one percent of Chicagoans most affected by poverty, crime and failing schools — poor black families who earn less than $50,000 a year — also voted for Emanuel.

So, progressives, you gotta win the black and the poor…

[2] People focus on the TV ads. I’d like to know about the walking around money.

NOTE Let me caveat that the most I know about Chicago is many visits to the Museum of Science and Industry when I was very young. So I’d love to hear more from Chicagoans, both residents and expats, on what the this race meant, and what next.


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