There’s a fight going on in Chicago, right now.
Two men are punishing each other with body blows and occasional headshots. On one side, there’s a brazen pugilist who hits hard and hits often, on the other a possible contender who can counterpunch but has trouble with his footwork. There’s no hope of a knockout: this one’s going to the fight cards.
We’re talking about Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, of course, whose contest will close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
I write about politics here at Ward Room and I write about mixed martial arts elsewhere. I always smile when people comment in wonderment to me how “different” the work I do in the fight world must be from the public affairs and political reporting.
It is, but it’s also not that different.
Just like in a ring, some political battles call for finesse.
A tactician in the ring will us misdirection and set up his opponent with a steady diet of body shots before unleashing a head shot for the finish. In politics, a public official might hammer on policy issues and wait to announce an endorsement until a particular period in the news cycle, or start a dirty rumor or release of scandalous news about an opponent right before Election Day.
Other instances call for blunt assault. A power puncher may charge in and try to hurt opponent with a barrage of one-two attacks; a flurry that’s difficult to escape or defend. A debating politician may attack a rival on an issue with similar rhetorical fury.
It’s all strategy. Play to your strengths. Optimize your advantages. Confuse your opponent.
Emanuel’s done it to Chuy. His focus on the Enlace finances, a distraction at best, is like his jab – a nuisance employed to frustrate and distract.
Chuy’s throwing haymakers, by talking about Emanuel’s rich and powerful cronies, and hoping for a critical blow while dancing around the ring – and not talking specifically about his plans.
Chuy and Rahm is the main event. It’s highly produced. The preferred weapons are not fists but speeches and debates and commercials and campaign mailers.
But if the mayor’s race is at the top of the card, the aldermanic races are where the brawlers are testing their mettle.
Image consultants and speech writers are of little use to campaign workers canvassing for Ward candidates, or turning out votes on election-day.
For the aldermen, it’s all about ground work.
Ground work is one part conversation, and one part scrap.
In the 11th ward, for instance, where the grandson of former mayor Richard J. Daley Patrick Thompson and law-student John Kozlar are in a runoff that residents say has been so bitterly fought that it is “splitting the ward in half,” between Canaryville (for Kozlar) and Bridgeport (for Thompson).
There are a host of important issues at stake in this election, including the construction of a helipad and the ward’s main business district along South Halsted avenue needing revitalization. However, we hear that supporters of either candidate are less likely to stand on soapboxes and debate the virtues of their men and their ideas, than to come out and steal placed signs of the opposition between Saturday and Sunday around 2am.
To be fair, in this new digital age, lots of debate happens online instead of physical public squares, and a Bridgeport resident group on Facebook is one of the more robust things you’ll find in this campaign, online. Residents argue with one another on issues, upload videos and, yes, trade insults and veiled threats.
You never know what, or who, will come in handy to give a good push to supporters to get them out the door to vote on Election Day, or to discourage others to stay home.
If ground politics are a fight, sometimes queasy politicians are usually eager to sub-contract that fighting to those more familiar with the process.
On the South Side, in Ward 20, Kevin Bailey’s campaign tells us that during February’s primary election, another challenger allegedly used gang members to try and intimidate supporters of his into taking down yard signs and not voting for him.
“They were pretty obvious, since at times they were wearing shirts with his name on them,” he says.
These stories remind me of the time an MMA champ was called out after a fight for an obviously illegal move in the ring. The champ said: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
Everything’s on the table in an Election year. Many things are under the table – or more precisely, below the belt.