After Winning Election, Mayor Emanuel Must Unite a Divided Chicago

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Last night, Chicago’s incumbent mayor, Rahm Emanuel, won a second term against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, in a historical election that had the whole nation watching. After failing to secure enough votes in February’s election, Emanuel became Chicago’s first incumbent mayor to face a run-off election.

Garcia conceded Tuesday night when Emanuel was up 56 percent to 44 percent with about 75 percent of precincts reporting. Now that Emanuel’s won, he faces the hard task of uniting a city deeply divided over its future.

Had it gone the other way, Garcia would have been Chicago’s first Latino mayor, and during his campaign he evoked the spirit of the city’s first and only African-American mayor, Harold Washington. But the great divide in this election was less about race and more about socioeconomics and the growing split in the Democratic Party.

Critics of Emanuel, who has been nicknamed “Mayor 1 Percent,” say he supports the efforts of wealthy Chicagoans and big business, and his emphasis on Chicago’s world-class image ignores major problems within the city, like gun violence. Emanuel had the support of moderate democrats and big banks, but Chuy Garcia spoke to progressives fed up with Chicago’s machine politics.

The New York Times reports that:

Even given a decisive margin of victory in Tuesday’s election, the episode has raised a sense of vulnerability around his political career, and an expectation from some here that his second term in City Hall may look different, in style and perhaps substance, from the first.

A chastened Mr. Emanuel on Tuesday night thanked the voters for “putting me through my paces,” and he promised to be a better mayor because of it, bringing voters’ voices and concerns into his office.

As WBEZ reports, many of Garcia’s supporters don’t see the election as a total loss. They believe the run-off — in what should have been an easy win for Emanuel — will make him think twice about the neighborhoods they believe he neglects. Garcia left supporters with a hopeful message during his concession speech:

“We didn’t lose today, we tried. We fought hard for what we believed in. You don’t succeed at this or anything else unless you try.”

Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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