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Election 2015 Tue Oct 28 2014
With the entry of Jesus "Chuy" Garcia into the mayoral race, the calculus has changed again. Garcia, a sitting Cook County commissioner, former alderman, and former state senator, is seasoned and well-connected. Those connections date back as far as Harold Washington, who was mayor when Garcia was elected to the City Council.
The most relevant connection, though, may be to Karen Lewis. The Facebook account which had served as the primary communication for Lewis's exploratory committee has declared - using language from Garcia's campaign - that "the torch has been passed, from Harold Washington, to Karen Lewis, and now to Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia."
When Lewis announced she would not be running for mayor, I revisited the question of how aldermanic races would be impacted. Then I operated under the premise that Alderman Bob Fioretti would de facto become the leading opponent to Rahm Emanuel. I argued that while aldermanic candidates would likely have run on Lewis's coattails, Fioretti was not likely in a position to assume the same kind of role, and therefore progressive aldermanic candidates should consider coming together in a separate coalition.
Garcia's entry, and the way it is being couched, suggests a conceptual strategy of simply replacing Lewis with Garcia at the top of an informal ticket. But Garcia, no matter his connections, is still not the folk hero Lewis is. And as things currently stand, Fioretti may still be Emanuel's strongest challenger. Rather than nullifying the aldermanic coalition concept, Garcia's entry may actually make that coalition more important to pursue.
The critical aspect of the race is that if no mayoral candidate wins an outright majority in February, there will be an April runoff between the candidates who finish first and second. Chicago voters can be forgiven for not realizing a runoff could occur since there has never been one - the current model was first used in 1991 and Richard M. Daley avoided a runoff all five times.
Emanuel's goal will be to play Fioretti and Garcia off of each other so as to weaken both and try to squeak by without having to get into a runoff. It is very likely at this point that Emanuel will finish first in February, but whoever finishes second would stand a good chance of consolidating support from all of the other challengers. Even if Emanuel gets 49% in February, it is quite likely he would lose the runoff.
What we see emerging is a classic WWE triple threat match. (If you think that high-stakes politics has little in common with professional wrestling, then you're probably not very familiar with either phenomenon!)
Emanuel is the belt holder and a mega-heel - the ultimate bad guy, but a very smart one. Garcia and Fioretti are both faces - good guys - but neither have held the belt and both are operating at distinct disadvantages, except that they both have it out for Emanuel more so than for each other. In a typical heel-face-face triple threat match, the faces start to work together to dominate the heel. At some point, though, the heel gets the advantage, either because the faces turn on each other, or because he's able to isolate on one of them.
Fioretti and Garcia are running for mayor because they want to be mayor. Strategy dictates that they need to separate themselves from each other as well as from Emanuel. Often in politics, though, in a situation like this, candidates will start to gravitate toward "safe votes" - the nebulous "center" where a lot of people remain undecided until the end. If they drift to the center, though, they are drifting away from their greatest positions of strength, and are liable to weaken themselves sufficiently that Emanuel can avoid the runoff altogether, or at least stand a much better chance of winning the runoff.
This is where the progressive aldermanic candidates need to be proactive. Garcia may be "considered a progressive".. But he's also closely associated with Toni Preckwinkle (who Ben Joravsky admitted "really isn't all that much of a progressive").
In this context, it arguably becomes even more important for those candidates to come together and define a common agenda. It could be easy for mayoral candidates who feel confident in setting Emanuel up for a runoff to move to the center. A strong coalition of progressive aldermanic candidates could check that kind of movement.