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First and foremost, he argued that somebody should take on Emanuel: It would be unhealthy for our world-class city if the mayor strolled to a second term without a competitive opponent, especially since his plan to close schools, on top of other cuts in working-class neighborhoods, has riled up large portions of the city. As the ancient proverb says, you can't beat somebody with nobody. And if anybody's going to do it, it's time to start gearing up.
On the other hand—
"If you put your dick on the table, they'll cut it off."
Figuratively speaking, of course.
The veteran's point was that this is Rahm Emanuel we're talking about—the guy who's sitting on $2 million in campaign funds, who's able to raise millions more with a few phone calls, and who's got David Axelrod's political operation behind him.
"They want to win by intimidating the fuck out of everyone with their money and their connections," the veteran explained. "You need someone with the guts to stand up who doesn't have any type of machine connections, and I don't know where that person is."
His points were sobering for Emanuel opponents, but I wondered how much of it was true. We've been hearing this sort of thing for years, since the mayor was a guy named Daley: no one should dare look askance at City Hall, lest he be crushed and sent to the unemployment line. We end up with mayors for life.
For a second opinion, I reached out to another elected official who's newer to the scene. He pondered the question for roughly one second. "No one is going to run who wants to have a future in politics in Illinois," he said. "The only reason you would run is if you have nothing to lose or if you'd been screwed over—if it was like a kamikaze thing."
On the upside, he noted, the sun is likely to come up tomorrow.
I heard these arguments repeatedly as I contacted strategists and officials around town, including both fans and critics of Emanuel. The consensus was that those who might be mayoral material, at least in their own minds, are likely to wait until after 2015, since it's widely assumed that Emanuel will move on after two terms if not sooner. "If you're an enemy of Rahm, at least it's got an expiration date," said a Democratic operative. "Why waste your capital on this race?"
Why? Because you can't win if you don't run. Even in Chicago politics, there's always the possibility of an act of God or an upset.
The hardened politicos admitted as much, which is why they were tossing around some names even as they doubted that Emanuel was beatable. Leading the way on the potential challenger list, at least for now:
• Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle is the prevailing choice among Rahm foes, since she's proven she can raise money and win countywide office. But she's focused on running for reelection next year. If she's thinking about a mayoral bid after that, she's not telling.
• Tops in the Why-The-Hell-Not? category is Alderman Robert Fioretti. His popularity with insiders is such that his home was mapped out of the new Second Ward. He was also ready to run for mayor in 2011 until illness stymied him. "I'm concerned about getting healthy and building a very strong City Council," he says.
• A cautious rookie alderman, Roderick Sawyer probably wouldn't and shouldn't. But he's shown some independence, he represents politically active middle-class south-siders, and he had a close relationship with a former mayor—his father, Eugene.
• Scott Waguespack, the resident wonk of the City Council, is beloved by north-side liberals but not well known on the south or west sides, and he's not fond of raising money.
• Sheriff Tom Dart folded his bid for mayor when the seat was open two years ago, so there's zero chance he'd run against an incumbent Emanuel.
• Speaking of previous contenders, former city clerk Miguel del Valle has such a strong desire to take money out of politics that it extended to his 2011 mayoral campaign.
• Cook County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia has two decades of progressive credentials but still remembers being ousted from his state senate seat in 1998 by Daley's Hispanic Democratic Organization.
• We can imagine the kind of entertaining, bomb-throwing campaign that would ensue between Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis—though we don't have to imagine it, since it's basically been under way for much of the last two years. Lewis is reportedly more interested in playing kingmaker than king.
• Meanwhile, the world awaits word from Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan on which office she will occupy next, but she's never expressed any interest in operating the machinery of a mere city.