It's the Friday before election day in Chatham—a south-side neighborhood that draws crowds for the summertime Bud Billiken parade but is plagued by above-average levels of unemployment and crime. Outside the neighborhood's early-voting polling place, a red union sign reads "Fire Rahm," a crown perched atop the R in "Rahm." As early voters file out, several stop to talk about their choice. They've all cast votes for Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, the Cook County commissioner looking to unseat sitting Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the city's first-ever mayoral runoff.
For some, Garcia's the anti-Rahm vote—a vote against a mayor they say has largely ignored the city's south and west sides, save his decision to close almost 50 schools in those areas. For others, Chuy represents a new way of doing things—one educator said he supports Garcia's plan for a Chicago school board that's elected by voters, rather than handpicked by the mayor.
But not everyone in Chatham has Chuy on the brain. Just down the street from the polling place, pro-Rahm signs flank a soul food restaurant on 79th Street just west of South Martin Luther King Drive. Inside the dimly lit Captain's Hard Time Dining & Josephine's Cooking, Mother Josephine Wade—a self-described "godmother of the community" who's run the diner for more than two decades—talks about why she's got Rahm's back.
There have to be nine Rahm Emanuel signs out there. You must really be a fan.
First of all, I want to start off by saying I love me some Rahm Emanuel. I think he's doing a phenomenal job. And I'm upset with the way they're abusing him. When I say abusing him, I mean, mothers are protective of their sons. I don't care what color, I'm not into color—Rahm's my son. Most people wanna blame him for the red light cameras, let's talk about that. The red light cameras was going out and he inherited that. Most of this stuff he inherited. Mayor Daley sold everything and nobody ever challenged him on nothing. Mayor Daley had a passport—a rubber stamp—to run any kind of situation he wanted to.
A lot of people on the city's south and west sides are upset with Emanuel for the school closings, which disproportionately affected those parts of the city.
We closed our own schools. Because ever since Beasley [Elementary, a Washington Park magnet school] became high academics, we started taking our kids from Beverly, Pill Hill, Chatham, trying to get them registered in Beasley. We start putting all our kids in the car. My son has four kids and ain't any of them ever go to the school where they live. So when you don't stay and fight for the services in your own community and you commute your kids, you close your own school.
So you see the school closings being the community's fault, more so than the mayor's?
It don't have nothing to do with the damn mayor. See, we wanna blame the mayor for everything, even the damn killing. But these are our badass kids.
It sounds like you feel Emanuel took over a lot of city issues rooted in past problems.
You can't come in and fix a situation in no four years. He's the best man for the job because he's young, he's dedicated, he's up to the job, and he has a vision of growth for the city of Chicago.
Many are saying this election will hinge on the support of black voters. Emanuel's netted support from Congressman Bobby Rush and Reverend James Meeks, both of whom criticized the mayor in the past. But Garcia has support from notable African-American leaders like former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson and Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. Will we see a high turnout among black voters?
We turn out when the community's split, and right now the community's definitely split. Like a lot of pastors are going with the mayor and some pastors, a few, is going with Reverend Jackson [a Garcia supporter] now. I expect a very high turnout.
And you wanna know the outcome? (Winks.) Rahmmie baby.