While the speculation wheel furiously spins inside the Beltway over the possible departure of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in his dream quest for Mayor of Chicago, the field for Windy City’s top spot is getting very crowded – and very diverse.
Emanuel is not the only high profile Washington politico making a bid for outgoing Mayor Richard Daley’s job: there is also interest from Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), who is considering the post amid a year of silence in the wake of scandal involving former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D). Also considering a bid is the popular Latino Congressman Louis Guiterrez (D-IL).
Already, the race is becoming somewhat heated as Jackson took political shots at Emanuel on a recent CNN interview, arguing that the head of Obama’s White House inner circle will “have to answer questions about those communities that have been left behind.” Not only does that pit Jackson against the President’s political machine – which might be hard pressed to choose between two ardent and loyal supporters of Obama’s 2008 campaign – but it also sets a subtle tone of racial politics in a city notorious for it. Should Jackson win, he would be the second African American Mayor in the city’s history, nearly thirty years after the late Harold Washington, Jr. held that honor. Once considered a long shot, Washington was able to barely piece together a multi-racial coalition by the skin of his teeth, making history before his untimely death in 1987.
As the field grows and the list of candidates grows longer, observers are raising concerns that the very tenuous peace Daley stubbornly maintained between competing communities could begin to buckle under the weight of old divisions. There is a sense that Daley’s resignation was something looked forward to by anxious candidates in-the-making. “South Side Irish, North Side Irish, African-Americans, South Side African-Americans, West Side African-Americans, Latinos, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, everybody’s doing it,” noted Alderman Ricardo Munoz in a recent Chicago Tribune interview.
A recent Chicago Sun-Times poll found no clear favorite for city hall. Although most voters are undecided, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart led the pack with 12 percent. The very vocal Black State Sen. James Meeks – who’s weighed both Mayoral and gubernatorial bids before – is at 10 percent. Guitierrez follows with 9 percent, Jackson Jr. at 8 percent and Emanuel last at 7 percent.
Northwestern University political science professor Victoria DeFrancesco-Soto, based in Chicago, predicts that candidates will be looking more closely at the Latino vote than in previous elections.
“One crucial element in this will be race,” says DeFrancesco-Soto in comments to Politic365.com. “Chicago is one of the few cities in the country that has a more or less equal population of black, white, and Latino. However, a substantial portion of the Latino population is ineligible to vote. The question then becomes who will Latino voters lend their support to. As the candidacies begin to take shape, we will be better able to determine this, but for now, the Latino vote in Chicago, as in much of the country will be a swing vote that is up for grabs.”