A Contested City Election: What a Concept

I was in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago where they are in the midst of a real mayoral election with all the trappings: several  viable candidates (a couple of them sitting Congressmen), debates, issues, press attention, blogs, engaged community organizations, even student engagement. I returned to Chicago with a picture of what a contested city-wide election. Not even my local 48th ward aldermanic race was worth paying attention to as the incumbent, Mary Ann Smith, managed to knock all her challengers off the ballot (including Iraq War veteran Chris Lawrence apparently for his failure to file a receipt with his economic disclosure form.)

Nevertheless, or perhaps out of frustration at the lack of meaningful politics at my own polling place, I followed with interest coverage of Tuesday’s elections in Chicago. (Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I found the Sun Times more useful than Trib.)

I found lots of discussion of the prospect that Daley will break his father’s record as the longest serving mayor of the city but nary a mention of the man will may have a large say about Daley’s ability to finish his term: U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald who continues to investigate City Hall after already convicting some of his closest aides. For example, here’s Fran Spielman’s synopsis of Hizzoner (Junior?)’s triumph:

Tuesday’s landslide was vindication. Daley’s toughness and ability to adjust to new political realities has long been underestimated. He has proven once again how resilient he is.

Spielman‘s look at Daley’s next (final?) term focused more on political maneuverings than on possible policies. She reveals that CTA head Frank Kruesi may finally be on his way out to placate Springfield, but suggests no other possible policy implications:

the mayor knows better than anybody that the time has come to remove his longest-serving adviser. Kruesi has made so many enemies in Springfield — including powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan — state lawmakers won’t even think about helping the CTA until he’s gone. Look for Kruesi to make the long-rumored move to the O’Hare Modernization Program and Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez to replace Kruesi at CTA, where she got her start.

Spielman also gives us this tease about the future of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan:

City Hall sources said Duncan fell out of favor for a while last year, but he may have worked his way out of the doghouse.

In reviewing possible candidates to replace Phil Cline as Police Superintendent, she mentions that “former Deputy Police Supt. Charles Ramsey, a runner-up in past police searches, is available again after a stint as police chief in Washington, D.C.” Spielman doesn’t mention it, but perhaps Ramsey’s approach to dealing with political protesters will give him a leg up. From Ramsey’s Wikipedia entry:

…[O]n September 27, 2002, the MPD made a mass arrest of a large group of demonstrators who had assembled in DC’s Pershing Park to protest the World Bank and IMF meetings. The police enclosed over 400 people in the park and arrested them without ever ordering them to disperse or allowing them to leave the park. Many of the arrested were not actually demonstrators, but were journalists, legal observers, and pedestrians. On January 13, 2006, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the arrests violated the Fourth Amendment and that Chief Ramsey could be held personally liable for the violations.

The aldermanic results send a nuanced message, one that does not fit easily into the “SEIU v. Daley & the Chamber of Commercememe. As Steve Rhodes noted this morning, “the incumbents who lost their seats were more the victims of their own special circumstances than hacks punished for doing the Daley Machine’s bidding.”

For one, the SEIU was not successful in its efforts in Latino wards, where both Danny Solis held his seat. From the Sun Times:

Mass mailings against Solis, who was appointed to the post by Daley in 1996 and serves as his president pro tem in the City Council, were launched by unions that supported Cuahutemoc “Temo” Morfin, a youth probation officer, who got 21 percent…”I’ve taken on some unions … I feel vindicated,” said Solis. “The neighborhood is with me.”

Blogs, and the media in general, for that matter, were irrelevant in this campaign. Reporters made a valiant attempt in the final days to pretend like Daley had a race (the Trib’s free Redeye carried all three candidates on its front page on Tuesday) but came across sounding silly. Eric Zorn penned an Election Day mea culpa that included a pledge to vote against Da Mayor as

“a call for change this time, not just another a warning shot across Daley’s bow. I’m tired of the “Oh, but the city looks so good” mantra of complacency that consigns us to praying for benevolence under autocratic rule.

The lackluster race is enough to make us ponder 2011, an election which will contested whether or not Daley runs. Mark Brown Ponders the possible role of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (and husband to an alderman-elect):

you have to wonder how far the Jackson family can take its dynasty. It seems unlikely it will want to stop with a congressman and an alderman and a man who ran for president.

Jackson’s House colleague Luis Gutierrez is likely to consider a race, as will City Clerk, and (independent) Miguel Del Valle. ESTHER J. CEPEDA AND ART GOLAB note that “Daley’s hand-picked city clerk, Miguel del Valle” didn’t meet with city-wide success, winning 58% of the vote compared to the Mayor’s 71%. Most notably for 2011, “Diane Jones, a 45-year-old water reclamation district employee who spent less than $7,000 on her campaign, won a third of the votes and beat del Valle in every African-American ward by margins of 200 to 2,000 votes.”

All of which points to a likely Latino v. African American contest. Would that kind of race, with overt Chicago-style ethnic and racial turf fights be better for the city than another placid coronation? Outgoing Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesmanTom Leach seems to think so in Carol Marin’s column. He fondly recalls the tense, and groundbreaking 1983 Harold Washington-Bernie Epton race: “Despite the fact there was a lot of racial tension, it was a great election. We had an 82 percent turnout. The highest turnout we ever had for a municipal election. We brought people into the electoral process who had never voted before . . . complaints about fraud diminished.”

The last time we had a contest to succeed a mayor in Chicago, following Harold Washington’s death, we witnessed City Council arm wrestling, yelling and desk dancing over several hours. This time, the process is likely to play out over four years largely behind closed doors.  


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