For quite a while, those who wished to see Mayor Rahm Emanuel removed from office had complained about a lack of qualified candidates from the left willing to take on City Hall and win.
Now, those in the anti-Rahm forces have something of an embarrassment of riches to contemplate in the months leading up to Election Day: two seemingly qualified candidates, each with a long history in the progressive movement and an outspoken champion of liberal and progressive causes.
The likely addition of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to the 2015 Chicago mayoral campaign, along with already-declared 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, certainly means the race has become more interesting and much less predictable.
The question becomes: can either one win on their own? And can progressives—and more importantly, their fundraising dollars—afford to take a chance on only one or the other right out of the gate?
For his part, Garcia, although a late entry, has already gathered a wealth of enthusiasm for a potential run. It’s easy to see why: he’s a figure who has fought his way up from the bottom, starting out decades ago as an activist and community organizer to become one of the leading voices of Chicago’s Latino community.
Along the way, he made important stops as Chicago alderman, state senator and current Cook County Commissioner, and as a noted ally of the late Mayor Harold Washington.
While he says he’s contemplated a run for a while now, it was only after Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis opted not to run that the enthusiasm for Garcia grew. Behind the scenes, major institutional funders and progressive advocacy groups are jockeying for position in light of the changed circumstances.
Yet, from a policy perspective, it’s not clear exactly what Garcia might bring to the race that wasn’t already there. In many ways, Garcia and Fioretti are on the same page about exactly how the city is, in Garcia’s words, “not headed in the right direction.”
Both, for example were opposed to Emanuel’s decision to close 50 schools citywide, and both are likely to support an elected school board for Chicago. Both oppose what they see as Emanuel’s preference for policies supporting the city’s elite, and believe more resources need to be poured into the city’s neighborhoods to help struggling Chicagoans. And both seek to make crime and neighborhood security a centerpiece of their campaigns.
As well, each candidate can—at least in these early days—expect only a certain level of voter support right out of the gate. While Mayor Emanuel remains a deeply unpopular figure, neither of his opponents are very well known outside of their already-established bases, and both have the challenge of increasing their city-wide name recognition in little more than four months.
To do so takes money. And while each candidate can count on unique contributors, it’s the big money donors, such as unions and national funders, that are currently sitting on the sidelines and waiting to make a decision as to who to back.
As are a number of progressive advocacy groups who can provide the foot soldiers needed to knock on doors, talk about the issues and get out the vote on Election Day.
Yet, if the ultimate goal is to remove Rahm Emanuel from office, then the answer may well be: back both. As of today, neither candidate is likely to be polling above roughly 30 percent, with Garcia still being an actual unknown as a city-wide candidate.
To move from 30 percent to 51 percent is a challenge for any candidate in four months, to say the least. That’s not to say it can’t be done. But while both Garcia and Fioretti may be strong candidates, banking on one or the other to singlehandedly take down Emanuel simply increases the chances the mayor can use his prodigious fundraising to his advantage.
To reduce the field to two candidates, with a third limping along, could easily make the progressive side of the equation seem less viable than two equally strong opposition candidates would in the mind of many voters. And, given the right resources, it’s a lot easier to move a candidate’s support from 30 percent to 40 percent than it is to move it above 50 percent.
For those of you counting at home, that’s 40 percent, 40 percent, and 20 percent. Or, 35, 35 and 25. Or however you want to count it.
But it’s not, say, Emanuel 57 percent, Progressive Candidate A at 35 percent and Progressive Candidate B at under 10 percent.
In fact, from an anti-Rahm standpoint, the real goal could well be a run-off election with two strong, viable progressive candidates.
For progressives, that would certainly be an embarrassment of riches.