Chicago takes a stand against ‘Mayor 1 Percent’

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor "1 Percent"Across the city of Chicago and, in fact, across the country, many progressives and working-class activists are very excited about the results from the Feb. 24 municipal elections. Justifiably so.

In a non-binding referendum, more than 90 percent of voters backed an elected school board in the hopes of beating back City Hall’s drive to destroy public education. The hated “Mayor 1 Percent,” Rahm Emanuel, has been forced into a runoff election with a candidate backed by his adversaries in the Chicago Teachers Union, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Voter turnout is usually low in Chicago municipal elections. But this year it was even worse. Turnout was a paltry 32 percent. What caused the low turnout is not exactly clear, but the fact that pro-labor and grassroots candidates were able to successfully challenge well-financed incumbents despite the low turnout is very encouraging.

This election showed what effect union money can have in the struggle. Genuinely progressive candidates did very well when they got financial support from organized labor.

The majority of people living in Chicago do not share in the city’s opulence. On Feb. 24, those who voted sent a clear message to the wealthy elite of this city that they are unhappy with the status quo.

The race for Chicago mayor

Backed by the Chicago Teachers Union and popular union president Karen Lewis, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County Commissioner, forced Rahm Emanuel into a runoff election on April 7. Garcia came in second place with 34 percent of the vote. Emanuel came in first with 45 percent of the vote. In order to win in the first phase of the election, candidates need to top 50 percent of the vote.

Garcia, to the surprise of many people, has a realistic shot at beating Emanuel, who is not very popular. Emanuel is, however, a very powerful and wealthy politician with great national influence. He has tons of campaign cash. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have endorsed and campaigned for him. Emanuel is without a doubt the preferred choice of local, regional and national elites.

Many of those voting against Emanuel are doing so to take a stand against Emanuel’s over-the-top pro-Wall Street administration. “Two Chicagos” is not just a new buzzword, it’s a reality.

So what is the significance of the April 7 mayoral election for the city’s workers, poor and disenfranchised?

Garcia, who has been a Democratic Party politician for most of his adult life, has progressive credentials. He was an organizer of the movement to elect Harold Washington. His name is on progressive legislation. ENLACE, the community group he started, fought and won a battle to get a new high school built in an under-served Latino community.

Now that Garcia is perceived as having a chance of winning the election and becoming mayor, he will most likely receive an outpouring of support and volunteers from labor, community and working-class oriented organizations, including Socialists. If Garcia were to win, it would undoubtedly raise the expectations of many of the nation’s progressives and fighters for justice. Sending Emanuel packing would make broad layers of the social justice movement across the country very, very happy.

Of course there are lots of different possible scenarios at this point. The capitalist establishment will be highly organized around defending their own interests in the face of a heightened social dynamic playing out in the contest between a Wall Street mayor and a non-insider Democratic politician with grassroots support. For example, the billionaires may begin appealing to Garcia, perhaps behind the scenes or with campaign donations, especially if his support grows. They may seek to outright smash and undermine Garcia’s campaign through the media, the police and other means. In response to our rulers’ tactics, we must be clear-eyed and strategic in our struggle against them—that includes a correct assessment of the forces in play in the April 7 election.

What is the job of the mayor of Chicago?

The mayor of Chicago is the chief administrator of one of the most wealthy and powerful metropolises on the planet. The job comes with near dictatorial powers. The mayor appoints the heads of the public school system and the sprawling public parks. He runs the city council meetings and has the power to call a vote on legislation with little warning and without making the full legislation available to city council members. The mayor has his hands on vast sums of city money to spend as he chooses.

Chicago is a capitalist city, dominated by a wealthy class of owners. This elite expects the chief administrator of the city to run the city in conformity to their interests. Mayors of Chicago, including the current one, have a history of extreme arrogance and brutality in the carrying out their social function. Oppression is baked into the job.

If elected, Garcia would be the first Latino mayor of Chicago. This would be truly monumental in such a historically racist city—a city that saw leaders of the city and leaders in the white community wage a racist war on Harold Washington, the city’s first and only elected Black mayor.

If he is elected, it is possible, though not in any way assured, that Garcia will oversee a few or more badly needed reforms for working and poor people. To make any significant strides against the dictatorship of Wall Street in Chicago, the mayor would have to be prepared to go to war with the city’s elite. Even the mere perception that Garcia is not on their side would likely move the city’s power brokers to launch an offensive against City Hall.

Would Garcia and his detachment of the Democratic Party be able or willing to take an active stand against the rulers of the city?

One of Garcia’s central campaign slogans and the very first promise he made in his very first TV commercial was to add 1,000 cops. This is a definitive statement which amounts to letting the rulers of the city and their armed henchmen in the CPD know that he has their back. His promise comes at a time when the vanguard of the social justice movement in the United States is street opposition to racist police terror.

As Cook County Commissioner, Garcia has voted to balance the county budget on the backs of workers and the poor. In fact, he led the charge in 2011, in the face of union pickets and protests, to cut health care spending, layoff county workers and increase sales taxes on items that disproportionately impact the poor.

ENLACE, the community organization Garcia founded, is funded by big-business and big-business related foundations.

A progressive, anti-racist and pro-labor coalition backing Jesus “Chuy” Garcia may or may not develop into or merge with a renewed working-class struggle against the corporate rulers of Chicago. The Feb. 24 election definitely suggests that people are ready to organize and take a stand. In order for the people to really take City Hall and make it their own, we will have to do battle, primarily outside of the electoral arena, against Wall Street, their bought off politicians and all the enforcers of the racist “justice” system.

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