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[UPDATE] Rahm Emanuel Wins Chicago Mayoral Runoff By A Finger

By aaroncynic in News on Apr 8, 2015 1:15AM

[Update Below] In what was one of Chicago’s most contentious mayoral elections in history and its first runoff ever, voters chose to reelect Mayor Rahm Emanuel to continue to serve as the mayor of Chicago for the next four years.

The fact that Chicago was in a runoff mayoral election for the first time in history was itself remarkable. That Chicago could have, for the first time in decades, voted to unseat a mayor is nearly as unusual in a city that has traditionally stood by its incumbent, no matter how unpopular. Former mayor Richard M. Daley could serve as the poster boy of this unwritten rule.

But even though Garcia didn't inch out a lead over Emanuel tonight, many pundits say the fact that he's made it this far underscores a political sea change, with voters increasingly being energized by more anti-establishment candidates. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio rode a similar wave into victory in his mayoral race two years ago.

Though Chicago’s mayoral race is nonpartisan, the city is known for electing Democratic mayors. While many of Rahm’s leadership choices have been hailed as progressive, from his push to improve public transportation to his summer jobs program for low-income youth, and he has the endorsement of his former boss President Barack Obama, he has alienated a large percentage of voters and whole neighborhoods within the city with political moves that favor corporations and wealthy donors. Not to mention his decision to close 51 public schools, more than the largest single wave of public school closures in American history, as well as half the city's mental health clinics, moves that are decidedly not progressive.

Kristen Crowell, Executive Director of the group United Working Families, who backed a number of progressive Aldermanic candidates and Garcia, said at Garcia's Tuesday night election headquarters that Garcia had an uphill battle. "Chuy got in late, and had to make up alot of work in terms of educating the general public about who he was," said Crowell. "He was hugely disadvantaged when it came to money and tv ads. With Rahm's $30 million to our funds there was a huge disparity in getting out that message."

Despite that, Crowell said that politics in Chicago have changed thanks to forcing Emanuel into a runoff:

"The Rahm Emanuel we know is broken. He can no longer walk into city council, stridently declare a policy and have his rubber stamps vote for him. That's been disrupted completely. He's already shown that he's vulnerable to tacking to the left when pressure is mounted and going into today, he knew he wasn't supposed to be in this race. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in knowing that if he wakes up winning tomorrow it's going to be a hard four years with ensuring our folks on the front lines push an agenda we care about."

UPDATE 9:50 p.m.: Both mayoral candidates just met with supporters to express gratitude and their hopes for Chicago's future after the election was decided earlier this evening.

Garcia kept up the fiery rhetoric he used against Emanuel during the election, pointing to the fiscal and other crises the incumbent faces for another four years. "We can't tax our way out of this crisis. We can't keep borrowing our way out of crisis. There are too many shootings on our streets, too many problems in our neighborhoods." Garcia said that growth is the only way to move Chicago forward, stating that Chicago needs more people moving to the city and a growing middle class. "We can only grow our way out of this crisis." Garcia also said that despite the loss, the race itself was a victory for the people of Chicago, getting community groups and activists organized. "We will not stop fighting for people. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever," said Garcia.

Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel entered as U2's "Beautiful Day" bellowed from the speakers at his election night headquarters. He was quick to acknowledge Garcia, thanking him for "running an excellent race" and pointing out that "he clearly loves the city of Chicago." Another point Emanuel was quick to drive home was heritage: "You just saw an election between an immigrant and the grandson of an immigrant. And that is why we are the greatest city."

While the Mayor took pride in what he has done for Chicago, he did acknowledge that not everyone is happy with his choices, stating that "I understand the challenges we face." Emanuel thanked the city for "putting me through the paces" and stated that "I will be a better mayor because of it," referencing the contentious election Chicago just experienced. Emanuel thanked the people of Chicago one last time, throwing in a "god bless Chicago" for good measure, as he wrapped up. While Emanuel expressed a sense of being open to new directions during his second term, making an effort in his speech to at least acknowledge that many Chicagoans are fed up with his current modus operandi, actions will speak louder than words when it comes to winning over a significant amount of frustrated Chicagoans.

Additional reporting by Rachel Cromidas and Lisa White.