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Voters pushed Mayor Rahm to the left. Will he stay there?

How the mayor changed course to win reelection



As election night unfolded—and the reality of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's reelection became too obvious for even the most delusional of us to ignore—I had to fight the urge to drown my sorrows in copious quantities of red wine and reefer.

After all, I was doing my First Tuesdays talk show with my colleague Mick Dumke and I didn't want to fall off the stage at the Hideout in an intoxicated stupor.

To my rescue came, of all people, Aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th Ward), Pat Dowell (Third), and Proco Joe Moreno (First), who'd spent the better part of the last four years supporting the mayor.

Do not despair, Alderman Pawar counseled: "Hopefully we can keep pushing him to the left." Yes, and the City Council along with him.

Dowell reminded us that in politics as in basketball it takes both an "inside and outside" game to produce a winning team.

And finally, Moreno said I'd been wrong when I stated that he'd endorsed Rahm's reelection. "You must be confusing me with your boy Alderman Fioretti."

That would be the same Bob Fioretti who passionately denounced Mayor Emanuel for the last four years and ran against him for mayor, only to turn around and endorse him during the runoff.

OK, that doesn't relate to my larger argument, but it's worth repeating nonetheless. Who knew Proco Joe had jokes?

The point here is that those of us on the left need not hang our heads. For once there was some clear benefit to battling the mayor and, especially, the notion that he always wins.

It's pretty obvious that we moved him to the left.

That's no easy task, given that he's a stubborn dude who hates to admit he's wrong. But any way you look at it, the Mayor Rahm of recent vintage bears little resemblance to the hard-charging, right-of-center crusader who swaggered into office four years ago.

That fella—call him Rahm I—was a proud neoliberal who waved the flag of privatization.

One of his early budget moves was to close health clinics and privatize city operations in the name of reform, while advocating massive tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the name of economic development.

His argument was that if we didn't help CME it would move to Indiana. And now that state is trying to keep businesses from fleeing after its legislature essentially voted to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Meanwhile, in the last year our mayor has turned into Rahm II, moving left with the realization that his earlier policies were out of whack with the majority of Chicago voters.

He's capped the creation of new charter schools, refrained from throwing TIF money at corporations, passed a bill raising the minimum wage, stood up for the collective bargaining rights of unions, and held off on the cut-the-pensions rhetoric—though that last move is probably because he'd already promised the firefighters' union that in exchange for their endorsement, he wouldn't touch their pensions.

Had Mayor Emanuel ruled like this from the start, I'd be loving him almost as much as I love that tangy-hot Salt Miners Chicken at Yan Bang Cai in Chinatown.

His political evolution reminds me of a debate I had years ago with my friend Chris, a leftist of the Chomsky persuasion who, curiously enough, also retains a deep and abiding love for the Blackhawks. That makes her one of the few people in Chicago who knows both Manufacturing Consent and the words to "Chelsea Dagger."

Chris said that Rahm was a rigid ideologue who subscribed to the neoliberal view that private markets are more efficient than public ones and that we should therefore sell off government to the highest bidder. Or the one with the most clout.

In contrast, I argued that Rahm was a pragmatist with no fixed principles other than brokering power and preserving his own hide. As such he'd attached himself to the neoliberal worldview on the assumption that it was the fastest way to reach the top of the political heap.

At the very least, it was the fastest way to help him raise campaign money, which would come in handy when he wanted to smite his opposition with TV commercials—as Jesus "Chuy" Garcia recently discovered.

In the case of education policy, that approach meant doling out contracts to charter schools, cussing out Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, and bashing teachers for not working enough.

The strategy won him praise from national pundits at the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Washington Post. But it alienated many Chicagoans, particularly parents of public school children, even on the north side.

I like to tease Chicago voters for being snookered by their mayors. But the locals didn't have much trouble figuring out that the more money Rahm gave to the charters, the less there'd be for everyone else's schools.

When it became obvious that his ratings were tanking—and he could get whupped by any of a number of well-known public officials—Emanuel moved to the left.

Now that he's secured another term, the question becomes this: Is his leftward drift permanent or just a temporary condition?

At the risk of going back to my delusional ways—always a danger for me—I'm starting to think he may have actually seen the light.

Much like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

In this case, Mayor Rahm wakes up on the day after the election and, deliriously happy, throws open the window to learn that his nightmare has passed and he's been given another chance.

I'm waiting for him to buy me a turkey, like Scrooge did for Bob Cratchit's family.

It hasn't happened yet. But in the days since the election, he's denounced the budget cuts of his old wine-tasting pal Governor Rauner and made an "I love you, man!" telephone call to CTU president Karen Lewis, offering an apology of sorts for having been such a schmuck.

Loving Karen and bashing Bruce? OK, so it may not be the second coming of the New Deal, but it's a start.

It wouldn't have happened without four years of pushing from the left.  v

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