Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Emanuel's Absence Highlights City's Divisions

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    NEWSLETTERS

    I watched or attended all three mayoral forums this week, and I couldn’t help but notice that all the candidates onstage, and most of the people in the audience, were black or Latino. The topics were big concerns for minority voters: immigration, affordable housing, and a Chicago Public School system that’s 45 percent African-American and 41 percent Latino.

    I also couldn’t help but notice that Rahm Emanuel was the only mayoral contender who didn’t attend a single event. Not only was Emanuel missing, he didn’t even send volunteers to hand out campaign literature and collect e-mail addresses.

    Emanuel’s rivals made sure to point out his absence. At the New Chicago 2011 Forum, at UIC, James Meeks pushed an empty chair labeled “Rahm Emanuel” to the front of the stage. Every time Emanuel’s name was mentioned, at every debate, the crowd booed.

    Miguel del Valle, who’s turning out to be the fiery populist in this race, made sure to point out that Emanuel’s refusal to debate was symbolic of Chicago’s ethnic, economic and geographic divisions.

    “The New Chicago 2011 is being born,” he said. “The people who are not here today are not going to do it. That’s why they’re not here. You understand the need for a neighborhood agenda, not a downtown agenda, not a big business agenda.”

    The organizers of New Chicago 2011 were not Emanuel’s voters. They were members of such groups as the Illinois Hunger Coalition and the Coalition of African Arab Asian European Latino Immigrants of Illinois.

    According to a Chicago Tribune poll that showed Emanuel leading the field with 32 percent of the vote, “the former North Side congressman is out front on the strength of his support from lakefront wards, white voters and the wealthy…More than half of voters who live in households with more than $100,000 in annual income said they would vote for him.”

    So there it is. A low-income black and brown coalition is trying to take back City Hall after enduring 22 years with a mayor it believes has neglected the city’s outer neighborhoods in favor of downtown and the Lakefront. Emanuel is the candidate of the Chicago that has thrived during the Daley years.

    As the only non-Hispanic white in the race, Emanuel doesn’t need minority votes to make the runoff. But he’ll need them to get over 50 percent. The more debates he skips, the more his opponents will portray him as the candidate of the white and the wealthy. Refusing to attend community forums not only makes it impossible for Emanuel to refute his critics, it makes their argument more plausible.