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Tight mayoral race exposes divide among Chicago Democrats

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in the first ever mayoral runoff. After vastly outspending his rivals, he failed to get a majority in the February election, forcing him into a runoff with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Special correspondent Chris Bury reports on the tight race.

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    Chicago voters return to the polls next month in that city's first runoff election for mayor. President Obama's former chief of staff, current Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is in a race against Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Their contest is exposing a real divide within the Democratic Party.

    Special correspondent Chris Bury has our story.


    In Chicago, where the Irish-American Daley clan dominated for decades, the city's first Jewish mayor, Rahm Emanuel, led the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

    Not far behind, his challenger, a little-known county commissioner born in Durango, Mexico, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

  • MAN:

    Chuy, Happy St. Patrick's Day.


    That Emanuel even has a competitor is a stunning setback for the hard-driving Democratic insider. But his failure to win a majority in the February election, despite vastly outspending his rivals, forced him into a runoff.

    Why does this mayor, with every advantage, incumbency, money, allies like the president of the United States, why is he fighting for his political life?

  • JOHN KASS, Chicago Tribune:

    Because people in Chicago don't like him.


    Chicago Tribune columnist John Cast blames Emanuel's abrasive personality for his lackluster showing in an election where nearly two in three voters stayed home.


    He knows that it is a problem for him. It's a serious problem. It's not about competency with him. People know he's competent or feel he's competent.


    I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen. I own that.


    In a remarkable TV ad, Emanuel acknowledges his personality problem, but argues it helps in his job.


    And with when business interests said a $13 minimum wage was too high, I didn't back down.


    His opponent, Chuy Garcia, a longtime local politician, entered the race only after other high-profile names decided not to run, including the head of the teachers union, who rallied 4,000 teachers to help Garcia get out the vote.



    For Chuy Garcia's campaign, the driving message is a tale of two cities. He calls Rahm Emanuel Mayor 1 Percent, accusing him of catering to the giant corporations and their CEOs in the gleaming skyscrapers downtown. Garcia portrays himself as the neighborhood guy, more in touch with ordinary Chicagoans.

    JESUS "CHUY" GARCIA, Mayoral Candidate, Chicago: My roots are roots that are embedded in Chicago neighborhoods that understand that the first important thing to bring about change is people.


    Among Garcia's favorite backdrops are abandoned school buildings. He has exploited the city's decision to close 50 poorly attended and underperforming schools, costing Emanuel support in the minority communities where they were located.

  • JEANETTE TAYLOR, Local School Council President:

    All of the schools that he closed were in African-American and Latin communities. And so you attacked the very people who voted for you the first time. So, who would vote for him again? You have got to be crazy.


    Garcia has hit a nerve too promising to take down more than 300 red light cameras, money machines for the city that angered drivers. Emanuel eventually backed down, ordering 50 removed.


    He won't admit that it's politics. He talked about it as policy, but he couldn't sell it as a policy change. You know what it is. It's what the people know. It's a political act. And it suggests panic.


    In the South Side Cafeteria, one of Barack Obama's old haunts, we sat down with voters leaning each way.


    I'm leaning toward Emanuel. He has the reputation of being a tough, feisty, feisty guy. I think — I felt like that's what we needed in the mayor of Chicago. I think that's what we got and I think that's what we — we still need that.


    I'm leaning towards Jesus Garcia. I think it's pretty clear, in my opinion. There are some associative reasons for that, including things that have affected people directly in their families and in their pocketbooks. That includes the closing of schools. It includes street cameras that are costing people extra money, which they're viewing as taxes.


    Out in the melting pot of Chicago neighborhoods, Emanuel is softening his tough guy image, telling his own family's immigrant story to connect with ethnic voters.


    About 100 years ago, my grandfather came to this city, and in two generations, his grandson is the mayor of this great city. It tells you volumes about why Chicago is the most American of American cities, most American of American cities.



    And Emanuel is on the defensive about Garcia's most damaging criticism, that he neglects the city's pockets of poverty in favor of the rich and powerful.

    How do you respond to these accusations from your opponents that you are the Mayor 1 Percent?

    Not true, Emanuel says, touting his reforms to public education.


    I threw myself in to make sure that every child has a full day kindergarten. And going forward, we're going to have universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds. Those are not — quote, unquote — "the children and families of the 1 percent," but they're the most bedrock of Chicago's future, and that's how you create a middle class.


    But Emanuel is also playing offense.

  • MAN:

    Some creative sources of financing.


    Relentless TV ads accuse Garcia of being unable to pay for all his promises in a city struggling with massive debt. Garcia has only been able to afford a handful of commercials.


    This used to be a school, until the mayor shut it down.


    The mayor is still outspending you seven, eight to one, millions of dollars more than you are ever going to get on television commercials. Can you possibly catch up?


    Of course. Not only can we catch up. We will overtake the mayor.


    Garcia has stirred obvious pride in the city's Hispanic neighborhoods, where supporters are predicting a Chuy bump among Latino voters.

    But the real battle is for African-American voters, who make up a third of the electorate.

    Maze Jackson, a Democratic strategist, says they are divided.

  • MAZE JACKSON, Democratic Strategist:

    There is truly a split. There is this — the people that are just angry at Rahm. But then you also have the people that are like, I'm not going to elect a Latino because they just seriously don't trust — trust the outcome.

  • WOMAN:

    Hi there. I'm volunteering with the Chuy Garcia for Mayor Campaign. Are you aware that Chuy is running?

  • MAN:

    Yes, I am.


    Garcia's surge has given hope to Democrats who want a more liberal candidate to take on Hillary Clinton in 2016. Community organizer Amisha Patel leads a grassroots group backing Garcia.

    Do you think this gives an opening to someone like Elizabeth Warren?

  • AMISHA PATEL, Grassroots Illinois Action:

    Absolutely. I think that — I mean, Chicago is the third largest city in country, followed by what happened in New York with Bill de Blasio. The fact that if we can elect Chuy Garcia here as mayor of Chicago, beating Rahm Emanuel, it would be a huge, a huge burst of support for Elizabeth Warren if she was to decide to run.


    Rahm Emanuel may be in a much tougher race than he ever envisioned, but he still holds advantages that fame, power and money provide.

    For his part, Garcia is upbeat in the face of polls showing him behind. And Chicagoans, who relish politics as they do parades, seem to be enjoying the contest.

    Chris Bury, PBS NewsHour, Chicago.

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