Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Rahm Emanuel’s Nightmare

My latest post is online over at City Journal. It’s called “Rahm Emanuel’s Nightmare,” the headline in homage to a Greg Hinz post. Things have not been going smoothly for Rahm Emanuel of late, and it has wounded him politically for perhaps the first time since taking office. Since he still has a massive pile of campaign cash and will likely convince any credible challengers to stay out of the race, he’s still looking reasonably good at this point. But he’s clearly more vulnerable to losing his re-election bid than anyone would have thought possible not long ago. Here’s an excerpt:

But the most ominous sign for Emanuel came in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed by elementary school principal Troy LaRaviere, in which he accused the mayor of suppressing principals’ independence and forcibly enlisting them as proponents of his education policies. According to LaRaviere, principals were instructed to have an “elevator speech” ready for the media, in which they would praise Emanuel’s proposal for longer school days. LaRaviere described how his fellow principals are concerned “about being harassed, fired or receiving a poor evaluation” and “paralyzed by fear of what might happen if they simply voiced the truth.” One even asked him, “Aren’t you afraid of losing your job?’” That LaRaviere apparently isn’t afraid may indicate a new willingness to speak out against an intimidating mayor.

Yet, Emanuel may be making a political misjudgment. He seems to believe that, like President Obama, he can tough it out through any storm or scandal. Local politics, however, is different from the national scene. In a country evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the president has a core constituency that will back him no matter what. By contrast, Emanuel has no political base. His support was always wide but shallow, as the collapse in minority-voter approval shows. His ability to get reelected depends on his ability to perform and the aura of invincibility that surrounds him. If he can’t command fear and compliance, he can’t get things done.

The LaRaviere piece actually got reprinted online by the Washington Post.

The problem comes down to what I said long ago: Emanuel has no natural constituency apart from the big money elite, who are a small percentage of the voter base. This leaves him vulnerable if things start getting choppy. This should be interesting to watch going forward.


Cities: Chicago

22 Responses to “Rahm Emanuel’s Nightmare”

  1. Tone says:

    There is no one that can beat Rahm, other than Preckwinkle and I think it is highly unlikely that she runs against him.

  2. Eric says:

    All of this is forgetting that there is no viable opponent, or even anyone with any clout willing to take on Rahm the Impaler. There is an element to Chicago’s media that is rightly highly critical of Rahm as they were Daley, but that doesn’t mean he’s at risk of losing.

  3. Tone says:

    Eric, you are correct. The election in 2/24/15 and not a single candidate of any significance has announced. Time is running out.

  4. pete-rock says:

    I think looking at Rahm’s vulnerabilities within a one-term cycle, or even two, is off the mark. It’s fair to say that he’s put aside challengers for the next election in 2015, but the real thing to look at will be the totals and composition of the anti-Rahm vote in 2015. If there are more anti-Rahm votes in 2015 than in 2011, someone will use that to build a challenging coalition. My guess is that it will be someone with a solid Latino base that can bring in African-Americans.

  5. Matthew Hall says:

    Hasn’t strong-man politics been the secret to Chicago’s success over the years? This is Chicago being Chicago it seems to me.

  6. Tone says:

    I’m not sure what people expect Rahm to do. CPS lost about 7% of it’s population from 2000 to 2010. Schools had to be closed. What population declined? Almost the entire loss can be attributed to African American population decline.

    People are mad that Rahm is trying to fix the city’s finances? What is he supposed to do, pray that god fixes them?

  7. urbanleftbehind says:


    The biggest connundrum as far building a coalition will be getting a candidate who can link the largely still-white city worker/pensioneer voter bases in the NW and SW side with the large black population in spite of their many times adversial relationship. Hampering this is also the long battles over affirmative action and exams within the CFD. I would think a more prominent black police veteran (maybe former Police Supt. Terry Hillard) might be able to pull this off. Gery Chico came off as a coconut to many and he had the original sin of being behind some heavy-handed policies in regard to local school control and selective enrollment (many say Northside College Prep H.S. was built so that his daughter could stay in the CPS) facilities, not unlike Emanuel in the present day.

    I think Rahm in the end would re-invent himself in the short campaign season to fit whichever voters were not front and center in the opposition block. Old man Daley was originally voted in by more liberally minded whites and blacks in the mid-1950s against the lace-curtain Irish, the then-much larger Polish-American bloc, and the remnants of old WASPs/German/Scandinavians in the more suburban parts of the city; he only shifted to the right once the Republican standard bearers like Ben Adamowski discontinued their challeges in the mid-60s and the national party began to lurch leftward.

  8. @Aaron – Wanted to focus on this quote:

    “Yet, Emanuel may be making a political misjudgment. He seems to believe that, like President Obama, he can tough it out through any storm or scandal. Local politics, however, is different from the national scene. In a country evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, the president has a core constituency that will back him no matter what. By contrast, Emanuel has no political base. His support was always wide but shallow, as the collapse in minority-voter approval shows. His ability to get reelected depends on his ability to perform and the aura of invincibility that surrounds him. If he can’t command fear and compliance, he can’t get things done.”

    Remember that Rahm was really schooled in politics by Bill Clinton as opposed to his more recent post with Obama. Governing with “no core constituency” is exactly what Clinton mastered when he was President – remember the phrases “triangulation”, “third way” and “New Democrat” that his administration lived by.

    In this, I think that a lot of observers that hear the louder and more vocal critics of Rahm (i.e. union leaders, lower income residents, etc.) are underestimating how many people vote for him *because* he has no “core constituency”, namely the upper white middle class people that Clinton was successful at getting (at least compared to Democrats in the past). It’s a bit of a misnomer to say that Rahm only has “elite” support – Chicago is less like the old labor/minority-driven Democratic town and more like the “New” Democrat town that put Clinton and Obama into office. That wide swath of affluent North Siders and people that live near the Loop (except for the very liberal on principle set) generally don’t want a mayor that will cow-tow to the unions and other political constituencies in other areas of town – that’s specifically Rahm’s appeal to them (and how Clinton sold himself as a “different type of Democrat” back in 1992). Those affluent residents aren’t the loud political activist types at all, so they don’t get the press, but they’re definitely a more important bloc when it comes to the voting booth than ever: they have money and their numbers are actually growing within the city limits (which isn’t the case with respect to union members or lower income residents).

    This isn’t to say that Rahm is good or bad, but rather the demographics of the city have drastically changed where the groups that are his loudest critics have less power today. Chicago isn’t the blue collar populist labor-centric town that it might have been 20 or 30 years ago.

  9. the urban politician says:

    Agree with Frank the Tank.

    Chicago’s black population is declining.

    The Hispanic population is probably slowly growing. My guess is that Rahm does worst with blacks, perhaps slightly better with hispanics, and cleans up with whites.

    That against no formidable challenger, and he easily keeps his seat in 2015.

  10. @Frank the Tank, that explains baseline appeal, but not survival in a crisis. One reason Clinton survived the Lewiniski scandal is that virtually every left leaning group in the country went to the mat him. The feminist groups, for example, sided with him against Lewinksy, Tripp, Paul Jones, Jennifer Flowers, etc. Many prominent feminists said terrible things about Lewinsky in the press, for example. GWB and Obama retained similar iron clad loyalty from their party faithful, both camps of which represent a large block of the electorate.

    Rahm is never going to inspire that kind of loyalty. Particularly since there is no genuine Republican Party threat in the city.

  11. Harvey says:

    Preckwinkle is the heavyweight. Fioretti’s not a bad option, and since he’s been pretty much gerrymandered out of existence in his ward Sposato might as well take a grievance stab at it.

    The dark horse is Proco Moreno. He’s been tracking a little bit too close to hipsterdom lately, and that Chik-Fil-A tantrum was a huge misstep, but he knows how to play to both sides on the Northwest Side. If he smells enough blood – and those Latino numbers must be pretty tantalizing – he’s got a pretty good shot at cobbling together a coalition of immigrants, unions, the working class and the Blue Line gentry, who aren’t quite as pious about “reform” and privatization as their Red Line counterparts.

  12. Rod Stevens says:

    What does it take to govern Chicago? Do you need a base once you get elected, or is being a strong man enough?

  13. ZG says:

    The sad truth is that the mayor is a neoliberal, water carrying crony capitalist apparatchik for the 1%.

    Another wasted talent who could care less about the middle class, let alone the poor and disadvantaged.

    That’s it.

    Image the kind of anti-social psychopath one would have to be to have his resume and be able to sleep more than two hours a night.

    That’s the mayor of Chicago.

    And yet he’s still kind of a lightweight compared to those who are actually running this country right now.

  14. ZG says:

    And, for the record, what I mean by “lightweight” is that while war criminals like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice have to be very careful about planning their international itineraries these days lest they wind up on trial in The Hague, Emanuel can still enjoy a leisurely vacation in the Azores if he wishes.

    He’ll have to turn his jackbooted robocops loose on a few more peaceful demonstrators to make the B-list of those who will stand trial at the future neo-Nuremburg days of reckoning.

    Emanual will be a man the day his non-benevolent underwriters tell him to “jump” and he refuses. He has a lot of bad karma to work through…

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Chicago is 32% non-Hispanic white. Don’t overestimate the importance of white upper middle-class voters.

  16. Roland S says:

    ^ Yeah, but as others have noted, the city’s whites don’t vote as a bloc. The white residents of Global Chicago (downtown, the north/northwest sides) definitely do not vote the same way as the lower middle class white residents at the city’s fringe, many of whom are unionized and work for the city.

  17. Racaille says:

    “Rahm Emanuel’s Nightmare”



    Nothing quite like a nice cup of hyperbole to get you going in the morning.

    Mr. Renn says:

    “This leaves him vulnerable if things start getting choppy. This should be interesting to watch going forward.”

    My recommendation for you Aaron is to leave the unhinged political observations to Joel Kotkin and the rest of the ilk at CityJournal.

    Are you that starved for cash?

  18. urbanleftbehind says:

    Proco Joe, per Harvey’s take, at least would be the north earmuff’s candidate when Luis Guiterrez leaves his 4th CD post. Sposato and Zalewski were mapped out of their wards for a reason – Rahm cannot afford to have a whiter righter challenger since that would shave a good number of his support in the gentry wards as well as unify the Sw and Nw side wards. Sposato and Zalewski shot the foot of their political future by grousing about representing their now hispanic majority wards – rather than be magnanimous like the irish guys that represented now-majority black areas like Ashburn, that type of comment killed their coalition potential.

  19. Eric says:

    How high is voter turnout among blacks and Hispanics vs. the mostly white north side? That is something that can’t be overlooked when talking viable candidates since there seems to be a pattern with who runs Chicago, with a few minor exceptions.

  20. urbanleftbehind says:


    Those 2 blocs can be played against each other, regardless of the intensity of voter turnout on the “white” north side. I’ve always felt that those numbers, though denser than in the past, has a lot of leakage due to many younger north siders maintaining “true addresses” someplace else for insurance arbitrage and swing voting purposes.

    Rahm merely needs to see who the strongest challenger is, then coalesce who (which blocs) it’s not. If its Preckwinkle, look out to see a lot of racially-charged advertising on a mid-rosa level in the city worker wards and in the more (relatively-speaking) well-to-do Hispanic areas (East Side, Clearing, Portage Park). If its Proco Joe or another Hispanic, look for a lot of “do we need a Villaraigosa here in Chicago” type of messaging aimed at blacks. The younger Daley: 1. bought off much the hispanic vote with his HDO and the jobs it doled out; 2. satiated the gay community and co-opted many liberal lakefront initiatives; and in doing so isolated the black challengers that appeared in the 1990s.

  21. Tone says:

    This is a lot of talk for essentially nothing. Unless Preckwinkle runs, Rahm wins easily.

  22. the urban politician says:

    I’ll call it:

    If Preckwinkle doesn’t run, Rahm will win, period.

    Also, those of you who think that NW/SW side union whites will vote for somebody else have it wrong. In the end they won’t vote for a minority, especially if Rahm throws them a bone a few months before election time. Remember, the school closings most affected black people (not only the neighborhoods, but the teachers). It didn’t have as much of an impact on white people, and a somewhat limited impact on Hispanics. Black folks bore the brunt.

    Truth is, Rahm is doing some things for the south side like building gyms and athletic centers (which I always find interesting–as if a gym is going to cure what ails this part of town) as well as major investments in the Dan Ryan branch of the Red Line. But the truth is, he totally blew it with the black community. He will never get their support again, and in a sense I imagine he is viewed as a traitor since he actually got a lot of support from them during the last election.

    Having said all that, with a few exceptions I generally support what Rahm is doing. He is ruffling a lot of entrenched feathers THAT NEEDED TO BE RUFFLED. Chicago needs this!

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