Let’s review some basic facts about the 2015 Chicago elections, shall we?
Karen Lewis may run for mayor. If she does, she might win.
Bob Fioretti is running for mayor. He, too, might win.
Rahm Emanuel is running for re-election. He could win. Also, he could lose.
Other candidates—such as Amara Enyia, Frederick Collins and Robert Shaw—are also running. As legal candidates for the office of Mayor of Chicago, any of them, too, could win if their campaign caught fire.
It’s important to remind ourselves of these basic truths for one simple reason: More than five months out from Election Day, a number of political operatives and media types are already working to craft a narrative that doesn't square with the these facts.
In an effort to prove themselves savvy and aware political observers, these folks are picking winners and losers in one of the most important political races the city has ever seen before voters ever get a chance to have their voice heard.
For example, take a look at this piece of political analysis by veteran political beat report Fran Spielman published by the Chicago Sun-Times on September 9.
Entitled “Fioretti a longshot for mayor, but could force run-off”, the piece starts off with a basic premise: Despite years of public service as an alderman, a long history as a successful attorney and one of the city’s most vocal and respected politicians, Fioretti doesn't stand a chance of winning on his own.
Just take a look at the first quote listed in the piece:
“I don’t think Bob has any chance [of winning]. He does not seem to connect. Eighty percent of the public has never heard of him. But his presence reduces the possibility of somebody winning outright,” said veteran political consultant Don Rose.
Of the three people quoted for the article, all of them have decades as consultants or operatives in Chicago politics—including Greg Goldner, who was once described by Chicago Magazine as running a “powerhouse public affairs firm that, during Rahm’s reign, has functioned like an appendage of City Hall.” Of the three, two flat out say Fioretti can’t win or isn't qualified.
"Bob Fioretti hasn’t exhibited a lot of depth in his criticisms or offered practical, real solutions. He’s good at putting out press releases and moving on. He goes out of his way to score political points,” Goldner said.
For her part, Speilman’s not the only one playing this game. There’s the recent Chicago Tribune piece that suggested a “series of lawsuits could provide fodder for foes in the mayor’s race who might suggest Fioretti isn’t a good manager,” even though nobody outside of Chicago’s political elite are actually talking about it.
Or the assertion as if it was fact by Sun-Times columnist Laura Washignton that in a one-on-one race between Fioretti and Emanuel, Fioretti doesn't stand a chance.
“Fioretti could raise $3 million-plus. Count on Emanuel to pull in $20 million-plus.
If it’s mano a mano, it’s over.”
Or the multitude of times a Chicago political reporter has referred in to Lewis as “feisty,” a “rabble rouser”, “outspoken” or “confrontational” in a story, all based on the commitment and passion she displays in her current job as president of the Chicago Teachers Union.
In short, it’s a political narrative taking shape in some quarters that Fioretti and Lewis are electoral long shots, here to add some excitement to the 2015 mayor’s race but otherwise doomed to failure.
It’s subtle, but it’s there.
Last week, I had the good fortune of being in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, on the day of the Scottish independence referendum vote. Over and over on British TV, commentators discussed how the vote’s results would play among the country’s “political class”. It was a naked admission that politics in that country are run by a self-selected group of elites who have a vested interest in shaping political narratives that effect policy, often in close quarters with the nation’s political media.
Here in the U.S. such a group has been called the “Gang of 500,” those political insiders and journalists who influence the daily media narrative in U.S. politics. The term was coined by ABC News political director Mark Halperin, who happily counts himself among those that help set the agenda.
Chicago doesn’t have such a clearly identified collection that helps define the narrative, but that doesn't mean the group’s not there.
In fact, Chicago’s political class is increasingly made up of people who have been engaged in politics for literal decades, and who more often than not have a vested interest in seeing the predominate narrative of the status quo maintained at all costs.
The only problem is, the 2015 Chicago municipal elections are increasingly looking like a decision that could affect Chicago’s future for decades to come. And, in part, it’s important because both the mayor’s race and many aldermanic contests are being populated by a different set of voices that have been heard in Chicago politics in a very long time.
As a result, whether a given candidate can win is too important a choice to be left to political observers and pundits who feel compelled to help set the 2015 narrative this early in the game.
That’s for voters to decide. And no one else.