Chicago

Juan Gonzalez: Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and the Tale of Two Cities

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Juan Garcia, crack investigative reporter for The New York Daily News, interviewed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia about his race against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

 

Emanuel had hoped to win a decisive victory, but Garcia forced him into a runoff.

 

Garcia’s theme echoes the winning theme of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio: Chicago has become “a tale of two cities.” A city where the rich and powerful prosper and become more rich and powerful, and a city where working people see their life prospects diminishing.

 

“People are feeling the effects of inequality in this city, and they don’t like it,” Garcia told me in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

 

“Rahm has run this city for the benefit of the select few, the high rollers, hedge fund managers, big developers,” he said, “and the people voted for change.”

 

The Chicago race has instantly turned into the next big test for the soul of the Democratic Party.

 

It is a face-off between the party’s progressive wing, led by folks like de Blasio, Ras Baraka in Newark and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and its corporate wing, leaders like Emanuel, Gov. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton.

 

All the experts predicted Emanuel would coast to victory. After all, he was a former top White House aide to President Obama and enjoyed the president’s backing. He is also an incumbent legendary for his take-no-prisoners style and affection for foul language. He raised $15 million, far more than all his rivals combined. And he enjoyed the endorsement of Chicago’s major newspapers.

 

Garcia, 58, was a little-known former alderman, state senator and community organizer. He didn’t even enter the race until October and he raised a mere $1.3 million. As recently as January, polls showed him with barely 20% support.

 

But on Election night, Emanuel captured just 45% of the vote – below the 50% needed to avoid a run-of – while Garcia emerged a close second with 33%. New polls now show the gap between the two tightening.

 

Garcia had the support of the unions, and Emanuel was the candidate of “wealthy downtown” Chicago.

 

School issues played a large role in the election.

 

Emanuel was the guy who shuttered 50 failing public schools, rapidly expanded charter schools, and faced off in a bitter 2012 strike with the teachers union.

 

“The school closings galvanized opposition to the mayor,” Garcia said. “Everyone knows when you close that many schools, you snuff out whatever life there is in a community.”

 

Garcia had organized a hunger strike by Latino parents a decade ago that forced the city to build the new Little Village Lawndale High School. He opposes further charter school expansion and has called for bringing back an elected school board in Chicago.

 

The key to the election is the black vote. Emanuel is targeting his TV advertising to black voters. Garcia is hoping they remember that he was a close ally of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor. Garcia, if elected, would be the city’s first Hispanic mayor.

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