Rahmbo's Chicago Has Become a War Zone

Rahmbo's Chicago Has Become a War Zone

By Tom Bevan - July 8, 2014

Even for those of us who live in the Chicago area and read the near-daily headlines about shootings in the city, the explosion of violence over the Fourth of July weekend was jaw-dropping. It began on Thursday afternoon, and by the time the sun came up on Monday morning an astonishing 82 people had been shot, 14 of them fatally.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy struggled to explain how, despite the beefed up presence of his officers during the holiday weekend, parts of the city’s South Side effectively became a war zone.

“We're square-rooting nine ways from Sunday what is it that happened. Was it a fatigue factor? Did we give people off?” McCarthy mused aloud in front of reporters at his weekly press conference yesterday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also weighed in, releasing a statement saying “the number of shootings and murders that took place over the holiday weekend is simply unacceptable, and points out that we still have work to do.

“This violence is unacceptable wherever it occurs in our city and all of us need to take a stand.  The only way we will meet this challenge to our future is to join with one another and create a partnership for peace,” he said.

You know the situation is serious when Emanuel, renowned for his expletive-laden braggadocio, is reduced to meaningless platitudes about creating “partnerships for peace.”

The mayor and his police chief are quick to point out that the number of homicides in Chicago, after spiking to 507 in 2012—the most in the nation that year—decreased dramatically the following year to 415, a level not seen since the 1960s.

But an exhaustive two-part expose published recently in Chicago magazine suggests that the drastic reduction in crime rates across the city in 2013 was too good to be true. Investigative reporters David Bernstein and Noah Isackson documented numerous examples in which the Chicago Police Department reclassified crimes, including homicides, in an effort to make the numbers look better. Chief McCarthy denies cooking the books, insisting that the steep reduction was the result of new police strategies put in place in early 2013.

Whether the statistics are being manipulated or not, it’s indisputable that Chicago faces a catastrophic homicide and gun violence problem, which is highly concentrated in a few neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city. By the administration’s own tally, one person has been killed and five people have been shot, on average, every day this year in Chicago—and that was before the carnage over the Fourth of July weekend.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of Emanuel’s re-election bid next year. Despite assiduously managing his image over the last four years, complete with a carefully choreographed “documentary” on CNN touting Emanuel as a tough, fearless leader – the mayor’s ratings are in the tank.  A poll in mid-May showed him with a meager 29 percent support for another term. Among the constituencies Emanuel has alienated most during his first term in office are African-Americans, who have galvanized against him because of his decision to close 50 under-utilized public schools and also his inability to get a grip on crime. Just 8 percent of African-Americans are supporting Emanuel for re-election, and some prominent members of the black community are publicly urging Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to run.

Preckwinkle, who is African-American and a former alderman from the city’s hard-hit 4th Ward, has been coy about whether she will challenge the mayor. She has dodged the question in numerous interviews this year – including one with me in an episode of “Changing Lanes” in late May. But it’s clear that the mayor and his team are worried by the prospect of a Preckwinkle run.

Emanuel’s biggest asset is his re-election war chest, which is bulging with more than $7 million. Additionally, a new super PAC supporting him surfaced last week with more than $1 million already in the bank. Funded by some of Chicago’s wealthiest business people and staffed with veteran political operatives, the group stands ready to protect the mayor by pummeling any challenger with negative ads.

In the end, however, all the money in the world won’t help “Rahmbo” win re-election if he doesn’t get a handle on the crime plaguing the city. The violence is generating real anger, real fear, and real questions about the incumbent’s competence.  They’re the kind of questions that aren’t going to be waved away by airtime on CNN or happy talk about “partnerships of peace.”

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email:, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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