What Rahm Can Learn From Rauner's Chicago Numbers | NBC Chicago
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What Rahm Can Learn From Rauner's Chicago Numbers

Can the mayor pull a Nik Wallenda?

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    The fact that Bruce Rauner bested Pat Quinn to take an affluent downtown Chicago ward on Election Night could have ramifications for Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he launches a re-election campaign that will require pandering to two very different segments of voters.

    It's a tricky dance, one that begs Emanuel to pick a side: Should he focus on the pro-business moneyed elites (and the ladder-climing white collars they inspire) clustered in the glittering urban center, the one-percenters who condemn taxes on the wealthy (despite popular demand), the types who attract the celebrity-millionaire mayor to their rarified orbit? (Oh, but he's one of them, too!) Or, should this polarizing Windy City CEO—currently attempting to raise the minimum wage here to $13, among other progressive policies—cater to the voting majority? The true-blue Democrats, the neighborhood people, those who care more about improving conditions in blighted sections of town, delivering on pensions and fixing potholes than whether Emanuel can summon enough tourists, talent and museums to make the much-hyped transformation into a "global" metropolis? 

    Am I being hyperbolic? Perhaps! Can Rahm have it both ways? No!

    "There really are two Chicagos now," writes Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business. "And Mr. Emanuel is going to have to have significant appeal in both of them if he's to win. That's exactly what the upcoming election campaign will be about: whether other candidates such as Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, and Cook County Commissioner Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia will be able to unite those areas behind them, or whether Mr. Emanuel will be able to reach average voters there in a way he has not done thus far."

    Hinz's argument hinges upon Rauner's rare-for-a-Republican success in Ward 42, which covers the the Loop, River North, Gold Coast and Streeterville. The Winnetka-based governor-elect and ex-venture capitalist won the 42nd by several hundred votes, leading Quinn there 50-48 percent and nearly undoing the incumbent Democrat in the 43rd (Lincoln Park) and the 2nd (Gold Coast through Bucktown). Quinn, who picked up the other 49 wards, scored all 50 (including 42) four years ago. 

    Given Emanuel and Rauner's overlapping political base and similar philosophies on streamlining government to run efficiently (aka, like a business), the former should be able to recreate the latter's numbers in the toniest, most like-minded pockets of the city, Hinz observes. A warning:

    But there's an elephant in the room. A huge, strapping, dominating elephant: the rest of Chicago. Mr. Rauner didn't need it. The roughly 21 percent of the vote he got citywide was more than enough to meet his needs, given that most suburban and downstate areas strongly preferred him to another term with Mr. Quinn. But Mr. Emanuel doesn't have suburbs or downstate to rely on. He has to cobble together a winning margin in Chicago as a whole and, on that count, this week's gubernatorial breakdown is a cold slap, the greater downtown notwithstanding.

    Therein lies the problem. And Chicagoans who wield way more vote power than they do wallet power will get a chance to show Emanuel what they really think in February's mayoral election. If progressives like Garcia and Fioretti can mobilize the electorate through turning the mayor into Public Enemy No. 1, then all that money might not matter as much. Emanuel is nobody's fool. Closing in on a rocky first term, he certainly knows he can't afford to risk a second by ignoring the needs of a huge percentage of his citizenry—even though his interests align with the Michael Sacks' of the world.

    Nik Wallenda traversed the Chicago River in a matter of minutes. The mayor has three months to pull off another spectacular tightrope act: Making everyone like him without pissing anyone off. That's a sink-or-swim proposition.