Rogers Park, January 12- I can almost hear my father saying as to whether Jesus “Chuy” Garcia could do better than incumbent Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “Well, he couldn’t do any worse.” That might not be the best reason to vote out the incumbent, and depending upon who one asks, there are widely variable views on the Emanuel administration. That’s because it has succeeded in concealing an unprecedented disaster in Chicago. The destruction of the south and west sides in particular in the wake of the foreclosure crisis and the administration’s policy of bulldozing rather than revitalizing neighborhoods rivals the destruction of the Great Chicago Fire.
Select neighborhoods, primarily in more affluent north side areas have been appeased with landscaping, new parks and a virtual absence of the scourge of Red Light and Speed cameras. Jefferson Park, for example, home to a substantial number of city workers and police officers is nearly devoid of any such cameras, except 3 speed cameras bracketing a neighborhood park. The south, southwest and west sides are infested with these abusive and predatory back door tax mechanisms. Those same neighborhoods, most often Black and predominantly Latino also curiously have found themselves suspiciously overlooked for beatification, such as those lusciously horticultured center islands, and have been thoroughly abandoned both from infrastructure improvement(or upkeep) and business investment. Through neglect and dis-investment these hidden-in-plain-sight neighborhoods have become blighted.
Schools, likewise, have been allowed to whither; set up to fail so that the administration can more easily make its case for crony run and owned charter schools. As for crime, Rahm has been a hindrance rather than a resource. With violent crime down nationally, the intransigent nature of crime and hopelessness in neighborhoods like Englewood and Woodlawn can be tied directly to those atrophied communities under the Emanuel Administration. His policies have driven a deep wedge between the trust of the community and the police.
Most egregious, what should be most unforgivable to taxpayers and voters has been Rahm’s party favors for rich donors and friends from the mysterious TIF fund. TIFs, or Tax Increment Financing, are skimmed from property taxes and thrown into a slush fund under the control of the mayor, and with little or no oversight. They were designed as a redevelopment fund. Instead, it seems to have become a grab bag for the mayor to bestow the taxpayer’s hard-earned money upon the already wealthy. Recipients of TIF funds, are, among others, Target, Coca Cola, United Airlines for their move from Elk Grove Village to the Willis tower, Hyatt which is owned by Emanuel friend and supporter, billionaire Penny Pritzker’s family, and millions to Milwaukee-based Mariano’s grocery chain. The powerful and wealthy line up and schmooze for these cash gifts.
But this is less about Rahm Emanuel but more about the man with the best opportunity to challenge him: Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the heir apparent to former candidate and Chicago teacher’s Union president Karen Lewis. With a steady snow falling outside the windows of this modest northwest side condominium more than 40 supporters, would-be supporters and curious neighbors from across Rogers Park gathered to hear Garcia’s plan for turning the city from a machine run cash machine for the wealthy and powerful and make it more about a functional community that serves all of the people. Garcia, shedding his jacket spoke to those gathered with a conversational and comfortable sense of urgency.
Garcia, a former Cook County commissioner, proposes a moratorium on TIFs as well as red light cameras. He laid out a plan for revitalizing schools and neighborhoods and discussed his proposal of having a graduated income tax. Taking a longer and broader perspective on the mayoral election by laying out who should represent Chicago over issues such as infrastructure, immigration and even the Latino vote in the South for the 2015 Democratic national convention. Throughout the hour and ten minute long meet and greet Garcia seemed to make a stronger case for small business and working families in stark contrast to the actions and practice of the Mayor.
But the challenge for Garcia may be in simply getting out the vote. Emanuel may be banking on voter apathy, but the key to this election lies in the Hispanic and Black communities, and that’s where Garcia may find his greatest advantage. Emanuel’s weak spot is education and schools, and that’s where Garcia concentrated much of his attention before this mixed audience. Likely this race will end up being between Garcia and Emanuel.
“Why people have given up on public schools,” he said, “we’ve been set up to expect bad schools.”
Emanuel has been abundantly transparent in his support for corporate charter schools to the detriment of public schools, allowing neighborhood schools to wither and die while pouring money and support into charter schools whose records of achievement are arguable. Emanuel closed 50 neglected CPS schools in poor neighborhoods and opened some 50 charter schools in more affluent areas of the city. The loss of a school in a neighborhood means a loss of that neighborhood’s ability to function, support local business, deter crime and generate tax revenue. Garcia is an advocate for public schools.
“I’m a Saint Rita’s boy, I graduated from UIC and was the first in my family to graduate college. I learned to speak English in CPS.”
Emanuel is also vulnerable with Latino and Black voters. Both groups were reluctant to come out for the midterm elections, likely because candidates condescended to or ignored those communities. In short, the candidates offered only more of the same: disenfranchisement, abandonment and disengagement. Of the two, the black vote may be the most difficult, but both communities represent more than 60% of Chicago voters. Garcia expressed a priority in engaging the Latino vote and feels that he is uniquely qualified to make that happen. Apparently so does friend and supporter Karen Lewis.
“Chuy,” Garcia said, relating a conversation with Lewis after her shocking withdrawal from the race over health reasons, “you have to step up and run for mayor…you’re the only person in town that can put together a campaign anywhere in Chicago and make a compelling case. You can campaign in the LGBT community, on the northwest side and southwest side.
Garcia has won a number of other important endorsements including Daily Kos, MoveOn, Latino and Black community leaders, CTU and the CTA’s largest union. This night he was working the room among these grassroots supporters for donations to build a formidable response to Emanuel’s substantial war chest. Every dollar will count as Emanuel taps big-money out of state allies. At the end of the day it’s about getting voters to the ballot box. The key could well be getting out the black and Latino vote, but their distrust of the system has been honed over the years, especially during the Emanuel administration. Is Chuy Garcia the candidate who can rally those communities and get them to the polls? That remains to be seen.
Listen Saturday’s from 11am-1pm to WC Turck, Brian Murray and guests on Chicago’s real alternative media, AM1680, Q4 radio, streaming at www.que4.org.
WC Turck is an author, artist, playwright and talk radio host in Chicago. He has been called the most dangerous voice on the Left. He is currently working on a new book “Shoot Down: An unflinching look at the events leading up to the shooting down of Malaysia Air Flight 17.” His first novel, “Broken” was recommended by NAMI for its treatment of PTSD. In 2006 he published “Everything for Love,” a memoir of his experiences during the siege of Sarajevo. He wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He works with the homeless and foreclosure victims in Chicago. He partners in a weekly radio show dedicated to issues, society and politics with cohost, activist and artist Brian Murray For more information, past shows, videos and articles, visit www.revolutioandbeer.com
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a conservative think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and member of the State Policy Network. IPI is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011. IPI is also a member of ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force and Education Task Force. Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst, Amanda Griffin-Johnson, presented model legislation (the “State Employee Health Savings Account Act”) to the HHS task force at ALEC’s 2011 annual meeting. Collin Hitt, Director of Education Policy, is a private sector member of the Education Task Force representing IPI. He sponsored the “Local Government Transparency Act” at the ALEC 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit. In its 2006 annual report the Cato Institute states that it made a grant of $50,000 to the Illinois Policy Institute. The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the Koch brothers.