|« Teachers Union Weighing In Nationally and Locally||Daley's Last Budget »|
Election 2011 Mon Sep 13 2010
Is one of Mayor Daley's legacies ending the city's explosive racial politics?
Given the concerns that the race-based "Council Wars" of the 1980s could boil over again without a strongman at the top, that seems to be a hard case to make. Something that was truly ended wouldn't loom as an existential threat. The Mayor incorporated major identity groups into his ruling coalition using a not dissimilar approach from that of Harold Washington: minority contracting rules, grants and contracts to influential community organizations, and appointments of local leaders to influential city and state boards and commissions. He kept a balance that didn't fundamentally alter Chicago's racial politics, but merely placated the actors most willing or able to intensify those politics.
If identity does come to play an important role in the coming election campaign, years of idle speculation tell us that a Latino is the best placed to win the day. The Latino population has grown significantly in the last two decades--to approximately 25% of the population, when "Hispanics of all races" are computed--while the Black population has dropped by about 10%. Given the Black-brown affinity on economic issues and the prevalence of mixed white-Latino neighborhoods, there is some circumstantial evidence for that view. The candidacies of Luis Gutierrez and Miguel Del Valle could help us walk through whether there is a strong likelihood of a Latino Mayor in 2011.
Within days of Mayor Daley's announcement that he wouldn't be seeking reelection, Chicanisima on the Tribune's ChicagoNow network speculated on the possibility of a Latino Mayor, and a group calling itself Chicago Latino Coalition 2011 came together to begin steering the community towards heavy participation in the election.
There are two announced Latino candidates--both Puerto Ricans--who have the organizational or financial heft to make a serious run: City Clerk Miguel Del Valle, who cut his teeth in Mayor Washington's administration, and Congressman Luis Gutierrez, a national leader in Latino politics who made his name when he took on and defeated a Machine aldermanic candidate in 1986 and tipped the Council majority in Mayor Washington's favor.
As of July, Del Valle had less than a thousand dollars to spend, but he has a dedicated network of local activists, political operatives, and neighborhood organizers that will ensure he gets on the ballot and moves his message early. Gutierrez has nearly $400k in the bank and, given his national profile and deep roots in the Latino community in greater Chicagoland, a vast network of givers.
He also has something else: a sincere beef with Rahm Emanuel and President Obama on an explosive issue. Immigration.
Gutierrez introduced legislation late last year to comprehensively overhaul the nation's immigration system, and aggressively criticized President Obama and specifically Rahm Emanuel for playing politics with the issue. Latinos are hardly one-note voters and immigration is not at all a local issue--but in drawing a contrast between himself and Emanuel's inevitable candidacy, Gutierrez will have a strong record and fiery issue: He plays politics, I take on my own party to do what's right.
Of course Gutierrez has his own problems. He's hardly universally acclaimed by the Latino community. He was tied to the bribery scandal of former Alderman Ike Carothers and developer Calvin Boender.
But in a showdown that will likely feature three high profile candidates from each of the city's major demographics--Emanuel, Gutierrez, and the socially conservative Senator Reverend James Meeks--Gutierrez would be able to do the presumptive front runner Emanuel the most damage without necessarily alienating white and Black voters.
Should Gutierrez' unpopularity with a wing of liberal reformers or his potential ethical problems sink him early as a cross-section candidate, will the emerging Latino population buttress him? Here the narrative of the growing Latino population as political power brokers also faces a numerical problem: the number of registered voters in the heavily Latino wards has not significantly increased over the last three years in the relevant election cycles ('07 municipals, '08 and '10 primaries). In some cases the numbers of registered voters in those wards declined. This tracks to an overall trend, but that only further limits the potential truth of the narrative that Latinos are emerging as an increasingly important bloc of voters.
Of course, as we've discussed on Mechanics many times before, the idea of racial bloc voting is a bit of an anachronism and certainly not a rule: white, Black, and Latino voters regularly vote in large numbers for candidates of other races. A Latino candidate will not get only Latino votes, nor will Latinos give their votes to a candidate based solely on their ethnic affinity. But in terms of building on a base to survive a multi-candidate field, any candidate--white, Black, or Latino--will require some unified base to propel them forward. That base can be geographic, young professionals, working class homeowners, union voters, whites, Lakefront liberals, renters; it doesn't imply a racial element. But insofar as a Latino candidate will build a campaign outward from their base of power and with an established network of community organizations, political operatives, and funders, the larger the base, the greater the likelihood of building the necessary early momentum to overcome a "celebrity" millionaire candidate like Rahm Emanuel.
Del Valle suffers from less name recognition and less money, but is very widely liked, holds a city-wide position, has decades of experience and is an experienced hand at politicking on the streets. He's less polarizing than Gutierrez, who evokes strong emotions, and has an independent phylogeny to his politics stemming from his time in the Washington administration while offering some continuity with the Daley era. This latter point is important: for all the howling of activists over the corruption and dysfunction of the Daley era, there will be much hand-wringing over a return to the chaotic years of the 1980s that saw the city's population decline by some 300,000 people. But even more so than Gutierrez, who will have a major fundraising advantage, Del Valle would need a strong base of voters to generate the campaign infrastructure needed in a short campaign.
In winning a seemingly insurgent campaign for the Democratic nomination to the Cook County Presidency, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle essentially traded on her independent reputation and built on a previous campaign--Forrest Claypool's run against John Stroger in 2006--to put an electoral infrastructure into place over a fairly short election season. Daley's decades in office and sudden exit have precluded anybody from taking the same approach. This will make political prediction, always treacherous, practically impossible.
Will Chicago see its first Latino Mayor at a time when America is waking up to its new largest minority group? We can't know. But to assert their rightful political strength, the city's battle-hardened Latino politicos will need to set themselves to creating a fervor of civic engagement similar to what Harold Washington's campaign did in 1983--and with only months to go, that isn't a foregone conclusion.