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The Illinois primary's biggest loser was Mayor Rahm Emanuel

How the most unpopular public official in Chicago this side of Donald Trump played a role in Tuesday's election

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The polls have closed, the votes have been counted, and it's obvious that the biggest loser in Tuesday's primary was the man who wasn't even on the ballot.

He's the guy who's been hiding under a rock until the whole thing was over—my good friend, Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

At the very least, the results demonstrate that Rahm remains the most unpopular public official in Chicago this side of Donald Trump. Everyone from Governor Rauner to Bernie Sanders bashed Rahm to win votes in Chicago from an electorate that sent the mayor back to office less than a year ago.

Talk about voters with buyer's remorse.

At this point, it's too early to say exactly what that means for our broke and beleaguered city as we head into an uncertain future led by a mayor who's widely loathed by the people he's presumably leading.

This might be a good time for Rahm to claim that even he voted for Chuy in last year's election.

To illustrate the Rahm factor at play in Tuesday's primary, let's look at the results of four major races, starting at the top of the ballot.

Emanuel endorsed Hillary Clinton. But you didn't hear her bragging. - AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER
  • AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
  • Emanuel endorsed Hillary Clinton. But you didn't hear her bragging.

PRESIDENT: HILLARY CLINTON VS. BERNIE SANDERS

IN THE WEEKS leading up to the election, thousands of Chicago voters felt the Bern—I know because they were compelled to tell me all about it in tweets, e-mails, phone calls, texts, and Facebook comments.

But most of these Berners were white, and generally speaking, you can't win a Democratic primary in Illinois without a significant number of black voters—most of whom seemed to be solidly in Hillary's camp in the run-up to Tuesday.

In the early stages of the election, the standard response I got from black voters as to why they supported Hillary went like this: "I know the Clintons."

In contrast, the typical response I got from Bernie's white supporters went like this: "I will never vote for Hillary Clinton."

So what does it say about local politics when two important factions of the Democratic Party see the world so differently? What else? In our voting booths, as in our neighborhoods, schools, and churches, Chicago remains the most segregated city in America.

It sort of reminds me of one of Chris Rock's routines at this year's Academy Awards, where he interviewed black moviegoers outside a theater in LA. None of them had heard of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. But all of them had heard of Straight Outta Compton, a movie about black rappers, starring black actors, and directed by a black man, a film that wasn't nominated for Best Picture even though it was hugely successful and widely praised.

In Chicago, as in Hollywood, it's as if blacks and whites are looking at each other through the cracks of a wall that divides them.

In the lead-up to Tuesday, Sanders attempted to win over black voters in part by going after Emanuel.

He pointed out that he supported Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in last year's mayoral election. And to illustrate this point, he had Garcia surgically attached to his side just about everywhere he went.

This was a particularly ironic appeal, since the votes that helped Emanuel defeat Garcia largely came from the very black voters Sanders hoped Chuy would help him win.

Obviously, the times they are a changin', as Mr. Dylan might say.

Moreover, Sanders said he opposed the mayor so much that he wouldn't accept a mayoral endorsement even in the unlikely event that the mayor offered it to him.

That's a declaration Sanders may have to walk back come November, in the equally unlikely event he's the Democratic nominee looking to expand his base in the race against Donald Trump.

For the record, Emanuel endorsed Clinton—not that you'd know it from anything Clinton said. She must've figured that whatever ties she had to black voters would be undercut by getting too close to Rahm. So she pretty much acted as though he didn't exist.

That's a luxury ordinary Chicagoans do not have.

In any event, the keep-Rahm-hidden strategy worked—at least in Chicago, as Clinton won big in the black wards, helping her squeak by with a victory in Illinois.

Maybe if she wins she can do us a favor and take Rahm back with her to the White House.

Tammy Duckworth's opponent Andrea Zopp served on Mayor Emanuel's appointed school board. - AP PHOTO/NAM Y. HUH
  • AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
  • Tammy Duckworth's opponent Andrea Zopp served on Mayor Emanuel's appointed school board.

U.S. SENATOR: TAMMY DUCKWORTH VS. NAPOLEON HARRIS VS. ANDREA ZOPP

FROM THE START Tammy Duckworth was the favorite. She's a decorated war hero and incumbent congresswoman supported by many Democratic leaders, including Senator Dick Durbin.

But in this three-way race, Zopp made for an intriguing challenger. She's a smart, successful attorney who's the head of the Urban League. As such, she was counting on winning a big portion of the black vote—she called it her base.

Unfortunately for her, there was the Rahm factor.

In this case, Zopp made the mistake of saying yes when Mayor Emanuel asked her to serve on his appointed school board.

Actually, the big mistake wasn't serving on the board so much as voting with the mayor on every dumb idea he came up with, including forking over $23 million or so in a no-bid consulting contract to a shady company that employed Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Rahm's former schools CEO, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud last October.

So the big question was whether voters would hold Zopp accountable for the mess the mayor's made of Chicago Public Schools.

As a general rule, I say you can't go wrong underestimating the memory of Chicago voters, since many are barely paying attention to begin with. For proof, see last year's mayoral race.

But Zopp didn't have the kind of money it takes to air the commercials she needed to spin her way out of this predicament.

And she wound up getting clobbered, even in Chicago.

I'm taking solace in this. Perhaps the next politically ambitious civic citizen will think twice before rubber-stamping the mayor's cuts, closings, and privatization deals—even if only to advance his or her political career.

That would be almost as good as having an elected school board.

Kim Foxx (pictured) beat Anita Alvarez, who after a rash of high-profile police misconduct cases was lumped in with Emanuel as an official who "must go." - AP PHOTO/CHARLES REX ARBOGAST
  • AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
  • Kim Foxx (pictured) beat Anita Alvarez, who after a rash of high-profile police misconduct cases was lumped in with Emanuel as an official who "must go."

COOK COUNTY STATE'S ATTORNEY: ANITA ALVAREZ VS. KIM FOXX VS. DONNA MORE

IN THIS THREE-PERSON RACE, the most relevant politician wasn't Rahm but another official not on the ballot: Toni Preckwinkle.

The president of the Cook County Board was Foxx's prime backer. As a result, both Alvarez and More warned voters to stay clear of Foxx, arguing she was nothing more than the puppet of a powerful Democratic boss.

I'm not sure that's an effective campaign pitch, especially in Chicago, where voters seem to love their bosses, particularly mayoral ones.

In addition to being a boss, Preckwinkle's as close as we have to a leader in the fight for criminal-justice reform—that is, trying to find alternatives to throwing defendants into jail for minor offenses.

To her credit, Preckwinkle was against the war on drugs long before it was fashionable. Back in 2011, she had not only read The New Jim Crow—Michelle Alexander's indictment of the war on drugs and its far-reaching consequences for the civil rights of black Americans—she was distributing copies of the book to other people.

I know this because she gave copies to me and my old colleague, Mick Dumke, when we came to interview her about legalizing marijuana.

My admiration for Preckwinkle's stand on marijuana is enough to convince me to forgive her for wimping out and not running against Emanuel for mayor even though she was way ahead of him in the polls. But it's not enough to keep me from mentioning that she did, in fact, wimp out.

Emanuel became a figure in this race because of the widespread outrage over the Laquan McDonald shooting. Foxx went after Alvarez for taking too long to prosecute Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke for shooting McDonald—the state's attorney brought charges only when video showing Van Dyke shooting the teen 16 times was about to be released in the wake of a court order. A whopping 400 days after the incident.

And so Alvarez was lumped in with Emanuel as an official who "must go." If only so Chicago can move on, as they say.

The mayor didn't support anyone in this race—and it was clear none of the candidates wanted his endorsement.

Foxx carted Garcia to campaign appearances all over town like he was a giant bumper sticker carrying the message: DON'T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR CHUY!

It must have worked, as she won big, with almost 60 percent of the vote. Just like Preckwinkle would have if she had run against Rahm for mayor.

A campaign ad ripped Juliana Stratton as "a puppet—a pet for Rahm Emanuel." Apparently, it was ineffective; she won with 68 percent of the vote. - BRIAN JACKSON/SUN-TIMES
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
  • A campaign ad ripped Juliana Stratton as "a puppet—a pet for Rahm Emanuel." Apparently, it was ineffective; she won with 68 percent of the vote.

FIFTH LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT: KEN DUNKIN VS. JULIANA STRATTON

LEGISLATIVE RACES HAD a higher than normal profile in this election because, as I've argued, they were basically proxy battles in the fight between Rauner and house speaker Michael Madigan.

That made this particular race the mother of all proxy battles, as state rep Ken Dunkin was the only Democrat who had denounced Madigan and voted with Rauner.

His most notable Rauner vote was the one in which he effectively defeated legislation intended to keep the governor from cutting a program that gave child-care assistance to working parents.

Apparently, the governor was convinced that working parents were bad for the state's economy.

For that vote, Dunkin won the love of the Rauner crowd—and the enmity of just about everyone else, including President Obama, who endorsed Stratton, a lawyer and former Preckwinkle aide.

To offset the Obama factor, Dunkin counterattacked. Fortified by millions in contributions from Rauner's allies, Dunkin ran commercial after commercial effectively portraying himself as the second coming of Malcolm X for daring to defy Madigan.

He neglected to point out that his defiance came in opposition to a bill that would've benefited working parents.

I was so impressed with the audacity of Dunkin's campaign—and the ineffectiveness of Stratton's—that I originally bet on him to win. But that was before Obama weighed in. Then I had to wonder: How much Rauner money would it cost to offset an Obama endorsement in a largely black district?

The answer was at least another $1 million.

That's about how much money the Illinois Chamber of Commerce spent on a recent commercial that ripped Stratton as a "a puppet—a pet for Rahm Emanuel."

Oh brother, where do we start with the ironies here?

To begin with, Dunkin backed Rahm in the race against Garcia. And secondly, if anyone's a pet for the mayor, it's the Chamber of Commerce, which has yet to meet a mayoral TIF deal it doesn't love. And finally, Rauner must be thinking Chicago voters are pretty stupid if he believes they'll sign on to his school-bankrupting, union-busting schemes as a way of sticking it to Rahm.

How would Malcolm X put it? "By any means necessary"—right, Bruce?

As you may know, few people are harder on Chicago voters than I am. And even I think Chicago voters are too smart to fall for this bullshit.

And now, hallelujah, the election results have proved me correct. Stratton won with about 68 percent of the vote.

Look on the bright side, Mr. Mayor—in Rauner, we clearly have a local politician less popular than you. v

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