Rahm Got His Comeuppance. Now Re-Elect Him

Rahm Got His Comeuppance. Now Re-Elect Him
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CHICAGO -- In the run-up to Chicago’s mayoral election last week, there was a palpable sense that folks here wanted to see Rahm Emanuel knocked down a peg. That was certainly true of Rahm’s detractors, of which there are many and who’ve been out for blood for years. But it went beyond that. Even astute local members of the Fourth Estate such as Carol Marin of the Sun-Times and John Kass of the Tribune (two columnists who rarely agree on anything) were singing from the same sheet of music, urging voters to deny Rahm an outright victory.

In the end, they got their wish. Emanuel needed to crack the 50 percent mark to avoid a runoff, but despite spending an ungodly amount of money and running against a field of four underfunded and mostly unconvincing challengers, he came up short, winning just 45.5 percent of the vote. County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia finished second with 33.6 percent of the vote, putting him in the April 7 runoff.

So Rahm got his comeuppance. He also became a historical footnote: He's the first (and only) mayor in Chicago to be forced into a re-election runoff since the city shifted to the "non-partisan" election system in 1995. 

It’s not hard to see why many were rooting for Rahm’s humiliation. His foul-mouthed, tough-guy shtick has worn thin over the past four years. His record of accomplishment is even thinner.

Some of his supporters feel he hasn’t gone far enough in tackling the serious budget issues facing the city. (He still has tire marks on his back from getting run over by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis in his first term.) Despite some nibbling around the edges, the city still faces massive fiscal issues which Emanuel has yet to address in any meaningful way.

Meanwhile his enemies, including the aforementioned Lewis, feel he’s gone too far on the budget and accuse him of racism, among other things, for closing some 50 public schools in poor neighborhoods around the city. They also accuse Emanuel of catering too much to business -- those evil one percenters, in particular -- and claim he’s responsible for creating “two Chicagos”: one where the downtown thrives and the other in which the neighborhoods on the south and west sides are left behind.

Lastly, Emanuel’s relations with the media are awful. He and his lackeys are aggressive, adversarial, controlling, secretive and, above all, image-obsessed. Which is why members of the press chortled as much as anyone over the results last Tuesday, even if they did so privately.

But now that the schadenfreude has worn off, Chicagoans face a choice.

As is the case in many big cities across the country, Chicago has been ruled exclusively by Democrats for a long time -- since 1931, to be precise. The city's last mayor, Richard M. Daley, ruled for 22 years before retiring in 2011, using a number of budget gimmicks on his way out the door to paper over the city’s profound fiscal problems -- most notably a ticking time bomb pension payout set to detonate next year.

It’s hard to see how Garcia, a Democrat who’s more liberal than Emanuel and far more simpatico with the unions and other entrenched special interests, will be able to muster the political courage to make the tough choices that need to be made.

What Chicago really needs is a pragmatic, center-right technocrat -- a Windy City version of Michael Bloomberg, for example -- who could implement meaningful and lasting reforms to get the city’s fiscal house in order. But such a person isn't on the ballot and, even more depressing, probably could not be elected if he (or she) were.

So Chicago faces a "lesser of two evils" election. It's an unfortunate situation, but one that brings to mind the old saying "better the devil you know." Rahm Emanuel is the devil we know -- even if he has egg on his face. 

Tom Bevan is the Co-Founder & Publisher of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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