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An Historic Night: Election Night Winners And Losers

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 25, 2015 6:30PM

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

There is no rest for the wicked weary after what became an historic night in Chicago politics. Rahm Emanuel’s pending April 7 runoff against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia made national headlines and while the mayor said he would be at “L” platforms this morning, the surging Garcia beat Emanuel to the punch and was shaking hands and courting votes six weeks from now at the Merchandise Mart station.

Emanuel vs. Garcia will dominate local news headlines the next month as both candidates work overtime to persuade those who voted for Bob Fioretti, Willie Wilson and Dock Walls, and voters that didn’t cast ballots Tuesday, to support them in the runoff. It will be a time to determine the depth of Garcia’s fortitude, if Emanuel tackles the runoff out of desperation or confidence his vision of Chicago is the right one, and whether voters who stayed on the sidelines will enter the game come April.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Nineteen aldermanic races are heading to runoffs and the results from those elections could drastically alter the makeup of City Council for Emanuel, if he wins re-election, or Garcia if he upsets the mayor. Let’s take a look at last night’s winners and losers.

Winner: Karen Lewis. Even though the Chicago Teachers Union president couldn’t mount her own challenge to Emanuel, Lewis’ clout and power were felt with her endorsement of Garcia. That gave Garcia’s campaign immediate legitimacy and opened the floodgates to a river of campaign contributions from public sector unions and their associated PACs. Could we be talking about a Mayor-elect Lewis if she was healthy enough to run? That’s a question that will be asked for years, regardless of the result of the runoff.

Loser: Emanuel. There’s really no other way to look at the mayor’s performance otherwise. He had a $15 million war chest, spent $7 million in TV ads and had President Obama arrive last week to give a last-minute seal of approval in an attempt to sway black voters he turned off in droves with his policies the past four years. And it got him a runoff. Emanuel knew he was in a weakened position, was desperate to avoid this very situation and his actions in the final days of the campaign reeked of it like a teenage boy drowning in Axe body spray. Will he continue to court those voters the next six weeks or say "screw it" and rebuild his base?

Winner: Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. The 26-year-old former caseworker for Rep. Luis Gutierrez easily defeated incumbent Rey Colon in the 35th Ward with a basic, door-by-door campaign that rallied residents frustrated by the 13-year alderman.

Ramirez-Sosa also becomes the first openly gay Latino alderman on City Council.

Loser: Chicago Forward. The pro-Emanuel Super PAC headed by longtime political insider Becky Carroll vowed to strengthen Emanuel’s rubber stamp in City Council. Chicago Forward donated nearly $650,000 to 21 incumbent aldermen and over $43,000 to two candidates looking to replace retiring aldermen. Some of the incumbents benefiting from Carroll’s largesse included Colon, Natasha Holmes (7th), John Pope (10th), Lona Lane (18th), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Deborah Graham (29th), Deb Mell (33rd), Emma Mitts (37th), Michele Smith (43rd) and James Cappleman (46th). Colon lost; the others are heading to runoffs. Another prominent ward race heading to a runoff is in the 11th Ward, where Patrick Daley Thompson will square off against John Kozlar. Thompson, the grandson and nephew of former Chicago mayors, also received money from Chicago Forward. It's a strange time when someone with ties to the classic Bridgeport machine can't win outright in a three-way race.

Winner: Education. If there’s a wedge issue Garcia can capitalize on, it’s Emanuel’s ongoing public schools policies and his antagonistic relationship with the Chicago Teachers Union. Despite Lewis’ endorsement of Garcia there were many CTU rank-and-file members who supported Bob Fioretti’s campaign. With the matchup versus Emanuel now set, look for teachers who have suffered the brunt of much of Emanuel’s decisions to band together and throw all their weight behind Garcia.

Additionally, a non-binding referendum question in 38 wards asking voters if they favored an elected school board instead of one consisting of people appointed by the mayor won overwhelming support. If Emanuel winds up losing the runoff, he can look at his war on public education as his “Bilandic moment.”

Loser: Voter turnout. Chicago has over 1.4 million registered voters. Only 464,335 cast ballots Tuesday—32.67 percent. That’s the lowest percentage for a municipal election since 2007 and at one point it looked as though only 25 percent of voters would head to the polls. Chatter on social media and news reports wondering “why so blah?” pointed to the usual scapegoats: cold weather; inconvenient polling hours; uninspiring candidates. And, to be fair, there was a sense of fait accompli among many pundits that Emanuel could avoid a runoff. Now that it’s clear there’s six more weeks of this, maybe those voters will be inspired to head to the polls in April, especially now that it seems as though “anyone but Rahm” is a realistic possibility.

Winner: Tiring of big money contributions. Another referendum question asking voters if they supported fair elections marked by small contributions and limited matching public funds received 79 percent support. Remember, this and the elected school board questions are non-binding, but the people—at least those who bothered to go to the polls—have spoken.

You can read the Chicago Board of Elections report from Tuesday's election online.