Lost Opportunities: Garcia Edition
In the aftermath of the runoff mayoral election in Chicago, analysts across the political spectrum are claiming that Mayor Rahm Emanuel defeated Cook County commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia for one simple reason: his campaign was the significantly better funded of the two. The claim that Mr. Emanuel’s campaign had resources unlike anything that Mr. Garcia’s campaign could dream of is certainly an undisputable fact; however, the reason Mr. Garcia lost is much more complex than a lack of money. Chicago is a great city, but one that is riddled with issues. Put simply, Mr. Garcia was unable to adequately use the problems facing the city to his advantage in order to overcome the financial restraints of his campaign.
One of the demographics Mr. Garcia desperately needed to galvanize in order to win was black Chicagoans. The increasingly violent south side of Chicago is predominantly black, and the black community in Chicago has long been seeking a mayoral candidate who will deliver on promises to revitalize these neighborhoods. Mr. Garcia actively tried to appeal to African Americans throughout his campaign; in fact, as the final weeks of the election season approached, both Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Garcia were fighting for the black vote on Chicago’s south and west sides.
Ultimately, Mr. Emanuel won out in this fight. As the runoff election approached, Mr. Emanuel’s approval rating in Chicago’s black community increased significantly. To put it into perspective, nearly six in ten African Americans disapproved of his policies in August 2014. Mr. Emanuel was endorsed by key members of the African American community, including Willie Wilson, the third place finisher of the initial election, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and, as was expected, President Barack Obama. It’s questionable as to how much Wilson’s endorsement helped Garcia, but as a Chicagoan I can safely say that it is likely President Obama will always have at least some clout in the Windy City.
Another population Mr. Garcia failed to capitalize on was organized labor. Early in his campaign, it seemed likely that Mr. Garcia would carry support from most labor unions and that this is where a significant portion of his campaign funds would come from. However, while the Chicago Teachers Union and Service Employees International ultimately supported Mr. Garcia, UNITE HERE and the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Mr. Emanuel, adding to his already-sufficient campaign funds. Should Mr. Garcia seek election in 2018, he will need to make garnering support from labor unions his top priority. Without the funds and support that labor unions could offer a 2018 Garcia mayoral campaign, Mr. Garcia could very easily find himself in a similar situation.
Lastly, Mr. Garcia also failed to exploit the fact that Mr. Emanuel faces many criticisms from the Chicago public. Mr. Emanuel is often targeted over the city’s discontent with public education and escalating crime in poor communities on the west and south sides . There was potential for the Mr. Garcia campaign to profit from this, but it did not fully exploit this opportunity. Mr. Garcia did put forth some ads accusing Mr. Emanuel of putting education funds towards private education as opposed to public, but this attempt was underfunded and simply not enough to sway voters away from voting for the incumbent. Mr. Garcia had quite a bit of material to work with when it came to tearing down Mr. Emanuel, and he did not sufficiently use it to his advantage. If Commissioner Garcia takes on Mayor Emanuel again in four years, he will need to seriously reassess the conflicts facing the city of Chicago and paint Mr. Emanuel as the cause of them if he hopes to win.
- Nika Arzoumanian
Photo: The Economist