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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  (Photo:  Daniel X. O'Neil/flickr/cc)

People Power Just Dealt a Major Blow to Mayor 1%

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel forced into runoff by progressive challenger Chuy Garcia

Andrea Germanos

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, dubbed Mayor 1 Percent, was forced into a runoff Tuesday after failing to achieve more than 50 percent of the vote in his bid for re-election.

Despite what the Chicago Tribune described as "his multimillion-dollar campaign war chest," Emanuel got 45 percent of the vote, pitting him in the April 7 runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who came in second with 33 percent of the vote. Emanuel outspent Chicago Teachers Union-backed Garcia 12-to-1.

The "election numbers reveal one clear result: Chicago’s voters shunned Mayor Emanuel and soundly rejected his corporate agenda that benefits the richest 1%," stated April Verrett, Executive Vice-President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

"They wrote us off, said we didn’t have a chance, said we didn’t have any money while they spent millions attacking us," Garcia, who's been described as a progressive champion, said Tuesday night. "Well, we’re still standing. We’re still running.  And we’re going to win. Today we the people have spoken, not the people with the money and the power and the connections, not the giant corporations, the big money special interests, the hedge funds and Hollywood celebrities who’ve poured tens of millions into the Mayor’s campaign."

Louise Cainkar, who lives in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood, agrees.

Cainkar told Common Dreams the election results mean "the regular people of Chicago are speaking and saying they want a mayor who works for their interests," and Garcia "laid out an effective beginning of a strategy for doing so." She described Garcia as "a person of great integrity" and said it was because of that he "was able to mobilize support in a short period of time with little resources."

And then there's Emanuel's track record.

Chicago-based reporter Rick Perlstein described Obama's first chief of staff as "a strikingly corrupt mayor" whose "real work has been in things like privatization." He told Democracy Now! on Monday that Emanuel

struck a deal with a bunch of investment banks to use the preschoolers of Chicago as collateral for a deal in which a bunch of bankers are going to get money if the test scores of preschool kids increase. He did things like privatize the janitorial corps in Chicago schools, and they did such a bad job—this is the company Aramark, the services company based in Pennsylvania—that parents had to come in a week before the school year and clean the schools themselves. And Aramark’s response to that was to cut a quarter of its workforce. It goes on and on and on.

Salim Muwakkil, a senior editor of In These Times, and host of The Salim Muwakkil show on WVON, told Democracy Now! Wednesday that Emanuel was forced into the runoff because grassroots organizing "simply outnumbered the money."

Echoing Perlstein, Muwakkil said the incumbent "was seen as a candidate of privilege, a candidate who was dedicated to the development of downtown Chicago while neglecting the less privileged precincts of the city. And he was seen as someone who would continue that process of privatizing the public sphere, or the commons, privatizing the commons to the highest bidder. "

What will happen at the polls six weeks from now is unclear, but on Wednesday grassroots organizers are seeing their power prevail.

"When there’s a strong movement of working families mobilized around the issues that impact their lives, the power of people can beat the power of money," said Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Illinois Action.

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