Rahm Emanuel looks set to win the run-off election for Chicago mayor by double digits, fending off challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and securing a second term. The Democrat Emanuel fell 5 percent short of winning a majority of the vote in the general election in February, setting up today's run-off. Garcia was supported by a slew of progressive figures, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Jesse Jackson and Cornel West, who called Emanuel "too paternalistic." The oft-abrasive former congressman and White House chief of staff got the message. In one of his last TV ads, Emanuel offered that Chicago could do better and, "I hear ya," so could he.
Though Chicago's mayoral election is nominally non-partisan, both of the last candidates standing were Democrats and the run-off was framed as a show-down before far-left economic illiterates of the Bill de Blasio/Elizabeth Warren variety and a more moderate-ish brand of Democrat. For Chicago the stakes were dire, as John Stossel noted in a column last month:
Emanuel relishes conflict and famously said that in politics, "You never let a serious crisis go to waste." That comment scared libertarians and conservatives, who know that government usually uses crises as excuses to increase its power.
But here's the surprise: Emanuel has been in crisis mode for four years now, and sometimes he made the right decisions as a result.
"Crisis" is not just political rhetoric. Mayor Daley and his predecessors pandered to a shallow public and gullible media by spending, borrowing and refinancing. Borrowing helped Daley stay in office for 12 years, but cities can't keep borrowing the way Chicago has.
Moody's downgraded Chicago's credit rating almost to junk-bond level last year because the city promised to pay billions of dollars in pensions to city workers but doesn't have the money.
Chicago is the next Detroit.
Emanuel tried to do some sensible things. He privatized some jobs, giving private contractors a chance to prove that they do city work better than city workers do it. He closed 50 of the city's worst schools. But he made little progress in addressing the immense pension liability.
As Stossel pointed out, Emanuel faced fierce resistance from public employee unions on dealing with the $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, and many lined up against him in the election. Chicago could still become the next Detroit. The city's voters have signalled, maybe, that they're willing to try to avoid that.