Lessons Learned from the Inspiring Mayoral Campaign of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia
by Troy LaRaviere
One week has passed since election night in Chicago, and I am among thousands of Chicagoans who are grateful for Chuy Garcia’s inspiring mayoral campaign. He joined the race for mayor in late October when Rahm Emanuel seemed invincible. Emanuel started with nearly $10 million in his campaign fund, while Garcia started with $15 thousand. Yet there Garcia was in April with a legitimate shot at becoming our next mayor. He forced a sitting Chicago mayor into a runoff election for the first time in history. We came up short however. Garcia didn’t come up short. We came up short. There are many legitimate ways to articulate the lessons learned from our shortcomings. The following is how I see it:
Some of those gathered to hear Garcia on election night were with him since he first entered the mayoral race in late October. Many more were among those who joined the rising tide of supporters after he forced Emanuel into a runoff.
After Garcia’s inspiring concession speech his supporters slowly began to trickle out the door, returning to the lives they led before becoming involved in his invigorating campaign. As I watched them leave, I realized that the loss was not the result of lack of plans, debate performances, insufficient time, disorganization, not enough money, etc.
While these were factors, they were just symptoms of a much deeper malady: there was a significant difference between the long-term commitment and organization of core supporters of each campaign. Specifically, the loss was the result of the differences between the commitment and organization of the loose collection of educators, non-profit organizations, professional organizations, labor groups, progressive elected officials, and individual concerned residents who supported Garcia’s campaign and the commitment and organization of the parasitic interests behind politicians like Rahm Emanuel.
I should explain what I mean. Some call these interests, “corporate,” “business,” “bankers,” “investors,” “the rich,” etc. However, none of these terms accurately defines and identifies the opportunistic forces that drive Emanuel’s reckless policies. Also, these terms unfairly include business people and investors who do their work in fair and honest manners.
Private business is not inevitably an enemy of the public good. When a school district purchases whiteboards from a private company, the public schools and the private business providing the whiteboards benefit from the exchange.
In nature, a relationship in which an organism and its host both benefit is referred to as mutualism. There are plenty of mutualistic relationships between business and the public. However, a relationship in which an organism does harm to its host is referred to as parasitic.
Perhaps nowhere is the parasitic nature of the forces behind Rahm Emanuel more apparent than in Emanuel’s dealings with Chicago’s public schools. He has replaced publicly run schools with privately run charters that foster inferior student learning; paid $340 million in taxpayer dollars to private custodial firms that left a majority of schools filthy; and created a scheme that hands over $17 million in pre-k funding through interest payments to three Emanuel campaign donors. These drain money and endanger the future of pre-k programing in Chicago.
These are a few of scores of relationships in which the investors and business interests behind Emanuel profit, while tangible harm is done to public institutions and the residents they are supposed to serve. Emanuel offers our schools and other public institutions up for his wealthy donors to feed on. His donors are the parasites, and our schools and other public institutions are the hosts they harm.
Why Our Movement Failed: Insufficient Commitment to Informing Public Opinion
These moneyed parasites are not the only people behind Emanuel, but they are the heart of his support base. They are the people with whom he meets most often; the people who provide him with the resources to round out his support base with political consultants, fundraisers, messaging experts, etc. who have worked around the clock, 365 days per year on behalf of their candidate. They understand a very simple logic:
- Elected officials control the flow of public tax dollars.
- Voters put elected officials in office.
- If a candidate who funnels tax dollars to them is going to be elected, the parasites must be completely committed to shaping how voters perceive that candidate.
They Arrived at the Party Early
Unlike us, the core of Emanuel’s base did not pull itself together three to five months before the election. They have been working diligently to shape public perception of Emanuel and his opposition since Richard M. Daley announced his retirement five-and-a-half years ago.
Nearly a year ago, in a Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed, I wrote, “Every time these officials misinform the public about the impact of their policies, we need to follow up with a press conference of our own to set the record straight.” However, my call went out far too late. I received a lot of attention for being willing to speak openly about the failures of the Emanuel administration. However, while Emanuel has been in office for nearly four years, I have been speaking openly and consistently for less that one year. That’s no way to keep the public informed.
During the last two days of the campaign I went door-to-door in Beverly less than a mile from where I live, and in West Lakeview, less than a mile from where I work. As I talked with residents about the negative impact of Emanuel policies people often looked genuinely surprised and sometimes asked, “Why don’t we know that?”
Scores of Chicagoans have witnessed firsthand the harmful effects of the recklessness and neglect of the Emanuel administration. Yet we stood by quietly and failed in our responsibility to keep the residents informed of the harm this administration has done to our schools and to our city. Some of us chose to give Emanuel the benefit of the doubt during his first couple years, while others hid fearfully in the shadows and emerged only within the last few weeks of the Garcia campaign—when the runoff gave them hope that Emanuel might be defeated.
That’s not the way Emanuel’s people work. They work around the clock to mold public opinion. Our movement must be as relentlessly committed to informing the residents of Chicago, as they are to misinforming them. We must do so openly and without fear.
They Never Leave the Party
As we were leaving the UIC Forum on election night, Emanuel’s handlers were already busy spinning public opinion in regard to the embarrassment of Emanuel being forced into a runoff. The day after the election the election narrative had already been rewritten. His election troubles were no longer the result of his reckless borrowing, neglect of Chicago’s neighborhoods, mismanagement of our school system, or Chicagoan’s frustration with his corrupt pay-to-play administration. Commentators on nearly every news channel were echoing talking points that the voters’ initial rejection of the mayor was due to a simple matter of “style” and a perceived lack of “humility.” It’s as if a man who was on trial for bank robbery somehow convinced the jury that his real crime was that he didn’t smile at the bank teller as he forced her to empty her cash drawer.
The Lesson – Start Now and Don’t Let Up
The Garcia campaign helped many Chicagoans find their voices. The question now becomes, “Will we lose our voices now that the campaign is over?” Will we stand by as the local media misleads the public by playing along with the spin coming out of the Emanuel camp, or will we provide a strong alternative that compels the media to pay attention to the real effects and contradictions of City Hall policy?
We must build a means of communication that projects an organized unified voice to (1) respond to such misinformation and spin, (2) give voters an accurate sense of the effects of this administration’s policies, and (3) put forth a better series of plans and initiatives aimed at securing a brighter future for our city and its residents.
This mechanism can be built from the organizational structures put in place by those who built the Garcia campaign or it can be built by a coalition of institutions across Chicago; but it must be built and put into immediate operation.
It’s not like 2011 when many of us needed time to figure Emanuel out. We know his game plan: Bleed the city through its line of credit, its public assets and its public institutions; open them up to organized pilfering by parasitic business interests and ensure each parasite makes a campaign contribution on the way out.
I hope that Mr. Garcia will be a central voice in this effort. I was encouraged to get an email from his campaign on the Monday after the election supporting the “Fight for 15” rally on behalf of Chicago’s food service workers. Such issue-based advocacy must be a part of our efforts to influence public opinion on behalf of working people across our city.
Along with Mr. Garcia, the newly expanded Progressive Caucus of aldermen in Chicago’s City Council should be a central force in establishing the communications structures and relationships needed to sustain a long-term initiative to correct misinformation coming out of City Hall and provide residents with a clear vision of a better way. The expansion of the Progressive Caucus despite millions spent to unseat caucus members in favor of Emanuel rubber stamp candidates should embolden these alderman to speak forcefully on behalf working Chicagoans. This effort must be bold, direct, and unrelenting.
Members of the Progressive Caucus, along with Mr. Garcia and other allies of working people in our city will not be able to do it alone. They need us; the people on-the-ground who see to the harmful effects of Emanuel administration policy. They will need us to step forward to the media and bear witness to the intimidation, incompetence, and negligence of this regime.
We cannot lurk in the shadows until the next election. 2015 has shown us this will not work. Over the last few months, Mr. Garcia was akin to a manager or coach of an underperforming sports team that lacked commitment, discipline, and organization. He came in at the last minute, defied the odds and took us all the way to the championship game, where his inspiring playoff accomplishments were not enough to overcome our season-long failure to prepare ourselves and our city.
Our election loss was not a case of the power of money defeating the power of people. It was a case of the prepared vs. the unprepared; a team whose members had been together for four years, vs. a team whose members had been together for one to five months; a team of those who are in it for the long haul vs. a team of short-term supporters; a team that practiced getting its message out for four years, vs. one that had no practice at all.
Politics does not have an off-season. Emanuel’s media army is already busy at work. They know that if they tell a lie long enough and loud enough it will be become the truth in the minds of residents. The question we must answer is, “Are we willing to tell the truth long enough and loud enough?”
Just as Emanuel is settling in for his second four-year term as mayor, I will be settling in for my second four-year term as principal. Unlike 2011-2015, I will not give him the benefit of the doubt during the first half of his term. I will not be distracted by the ridiculous diversion regarding Emanuel’s “abrasive” personality. I have seen enough evidence to know what to look for and to call it out as soon as it rears its parasitic head.
If we all heed the lessons learned from this campaign, we can indeed succeed in accomplishing Chuy Garcia’s often-repeated mantra:
“Together, we can take Chicago back.”