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New mayor — new Chicago?

Community organizers are hoping Rahm Emanuel will open up to their ideas now that his mayoral quest has ended in what he called “a humbling victory.”

Facing the first open mayoral election in decades, community groups across the city hoped for a broad debate on the future of the city and held candidates forums across town.

But the candidate who won yesterday – fueled by an enormous fundraising advantage, favorable media treatment, and tacit support from  City Hall and the White House – was the one who skipped out on almost all the community events.

“Emanuel didn’t come to the forums with the communities, so there hasn’t been an opportunity for a dialogue,” said Jane Ramsey of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, part of the New Chicago 2011 coalition.

“Our challenge as advocates who care about communities and the issues that have been neglected – housing, jobs, schools, health and safety– is to get the attention of the new mayor and get a process on track to address those issues,” she said.

Judging from the turnout, Rahm Emanuel won with less than overwhelming enthusiasm from Chicago residents.  That may have reflected the inevitability with which his election was treated from the very beginning.

In a remarkable analysis, Chicago Muckrakers touted up the number of times candidates were mentioned in the city’s two daily newspapers and it lined up almost perfectly with their poll rankings.  In the first three months of the campaign, Emanuel was mentioned 447 times, while Gery Chico got 227 mentions, Carol Moseley Braun got 210, and Miguel del Valle (a citywide elected official who was the first to announce his candidacy), 146.

Chicago Indymedia has a concise summary of Emanuel’s political career, from a highly critical perspective.

“Hopefully he’ll run Chicago with a little more grace, wisdom and competence than he displayed in the Obama White House,” commented a blogger at Firedoglake.

As the city and the new mayor struggle with a looming budget deficit – not to mention reorganization of a new City Council, with fourteen races headed into runoffs – New Chicago 2011 represents one major change in the landscape.

The coalition brought together dozens of community and advocacy groups to press a progressive neighborhood agenda. At a massive mayoral forum held by the group in December, one could imagine that the vibrant political culture and popular engagement of pre-Daley Chicago could be reborn.

With New Chicago, “there’s been a major shift in how organized communities work together,” said Amisha Patel of Grassroots Collaborative, which helped organize the coalition.  “Communities are coming together in a way that was not the case four years ago.

“They’re coming together across racial and ethnic divides for an economic and racial justice agenda,” showing that “we don’t have to be set up against each other,” she said.  “The possibility of organized communities coming together with organized labor to move the city forward is exciting,” she said.

With the budget crisis, “the question to us is what is the best use of available resources, and how can you use those resources to create some prosperity for the residents of the city,” Patel said.

“We understand resources are limited.  The question is whether community folks will have a seat at the table when the decisions are made so we can be sure the benefits aren’t concentrated downtown” while the pain is spread far and wide, she said.

Patel points to the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, which would dedicate 20 percent of TIF funds to affordable housing, as an opportunity “to move available dollars into neighborhoods to create housing and create jobs.”

At one point the measure had the backing of a majority of aldermen, but Mayor Daley opposed it strenuously, and this month the council tabled it.

“There are a lot of construction workers who don’t have jobs because of the housing market – and there’s an even more serious need for affordable housing,” Patel pointed out. “And the money is there.”

One budgetary silver bullet will generate opposition: a city-owned casino, which was endorsed by Emanuel and the other candidates.

“We’re going to fight it,” said Ramsey.  “We know that casinos exploit the most vulnerable people, they prey upon low-income and elderly people, they’re counter to economic development, they drain away from local businesses and they drive down property values.”

Doug Dobmeyer, spokesperson for the Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago, doesn’t think it’s politically feasible.  “It’s been introduced in Springfield every year for 22 years, and it’s been defeated every year for 22 years,” he said.

Dobmeyer thinks a city income tax has a better chance of passing than a casino.

He also likes the idea of a financial transaction tax, which could be small enough and targeted to products that wouldn’t disrupt the Chicago trading industry.  But for Emanuel to back that – he’s a former Chicago Mercantile Exchange board member and a top recipient of financial industry largesse – would be like Nixon going to China.

Still open is the question of whether a reform bloc will emerge in the City Council.  In 2007, labor donated heavily to help elect a dozen independent aldermen. “Expectations were high, but it was a mixed bag,” in part due to attention immediately diverted to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, said Patel.

In fact there were dramatically fewer contested votes in the current council than in previous councils under Daley, said Dick Simpson, a UIC professor and former alderman. “That may well change,” he said.

“It seemed possible that a reform bloc would emerge” but “it never came together on any kind of general reform agenda,” said political analyst Don Rose.   “Daley was quite willing to coopt and buy people up.”

Emanuel “will not have the clout that Daley had, and he’s facing a huge deficit,” said Simpson.  “He’s not going to have the resources to offer that Daley had.”

“We don’t know what he’s going to do,” Rose said.  “For all we know, he could come up with ideas that get the support of everybody.”

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Category: city budget, elections, housing, jobs, organizing


3 Responses

  1. Tom Wilson says:

    Excellent commentary on the election. The corporate control of the media and the lack of community power are holding us back, but that is changing. I was happy to see Miguel Del Valle pledge to stay in the fight to build vibrant community organizing organizations in all parts of the city. We can progress with participation and combined effort.

  2. Kate Walsh says:

    How do we get in touch with del Valle now? We need to keep him and his group alive and well, so that we can counter the Emmanuel agenda. thanks!

  3. Pamela Norman says:

    Interesting analysis! I’m eager to see the final make up of the city counsel. I’m hopeful the energized “grass roots” actually has a chance to make a difference this time! What’s needed is a coherent agenda presented to the new mayor and council. They shouldn’t wait to only react to their proposals. If the few actual concerned citizens are pro-active, now is a prime opportunity to guide this ship of state. (I think…I hope)

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