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Mayor's Race Pits Two Chicagos - One Rich, One Poor - Against Each Other

By Mark Konkol | March 19, 2015 5:59am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face Jesus
Mayor Rahm Emanuel will face Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in a runoff election on April 7.
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CHICAGO — There was a question during this week’s mayoral debate — one that got mostly overlooked by policy wonks, editorial boards and pundits — that summed up what the battle between Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia” is all about.

“We are really two cities. We are the rich city and we are the poor city. There is on the face of it validity to that, is there not?” NBC5’s Carol Marin asked Emanuel.

“I think that it is a false choice to pit one part of the city of Chicago against another,” the mayor said.

And maybe he’s right about that, but there’s no denying the wide gap between the two Chicagos we live in — the one for the wealthy and powerful and the one for the poor and forgotten — is one of the biggest reasons that a little-known politician from Little Village is squared off against Emanuel, by all accounts a polished, experienced and powerful politician.

While newspaper editorial boards have focused on how the candidates answered specific questions —  the mayor with his very detailed plans and the Cook County commissioner with, well, almost no plans at all, his critics argue — it’s hard to deny that during this first debate each candidate was speaking to very different audiences.

Emanuel continued to court voters by touting a checklist of accomplishments, his effectiveness as a negotiator and very specific ideas for working to solve the city’s problems, while pointing out how Garcia allegedly lacks in those leadership skill sets.

Garcia focused on selling voters on electing a more likable, relatable boss — selling himself as the anti-Rahm, a guy who, unlike his opponent, listens and takes suggestions, understands the struggles of  neighborhood folks and has their best interest at heart. As for the details — specifically, how to pay the city’s bills — well, he’ll tackle that once he’s elected.

And voters continue to get bombarded with very different campaign messages from Emanuel and Garcia on TV and social media.

This week, Emanuel’s “Uh-oh” TV ads seem to aim to stir fear in the hearts of Chicagoans by attacking Garcia’s lack of specific solutions for handling the city’s multitude of financial crises and funding his campaign promises to hire 1,000 new cops and protect public pensions.

The ads are simple, straightforward and use Garcia’s own answers against him. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that “uh-oh” must mean, “You’d be an idiot to vote for Chuy, he’s got no plan.”

Meanwhile, Garcia's underfunded camp continues to avoid taking on Emanuel’s show-us-your-plan challenge and instead is pushing ahead with his message that Chicago has had enough big city bosses and it’s time for a regular guy focused on rebuilding neighborhoods to run the city.

Without much money for TV commercials, the Garcia campaign has relied on YouTube testimonials from progressive politicians, teachers, principals and a guy with a Chicago accent thicker than Chuy’s mustache, Chicago Fire Department paramedic field chief Patrick Fitzmaurice.

People who know Fitzmaurice will tell you the guy’s got a lot of guts — and not just for going on camera to call Emanuel a “North Shore elitist” and stump for Garcia, whom he calls a “working stiff, like the rest of us,” against his union’s endorsement.

Fitzmaurice oversees some of the busiest ambulance squads on the West Side, where he’s often among those who get to the scene of shootings before the police arrive to treat victims, including teenagers he has to lie to when they ask if him, “Am I gonna die?”

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

“I always used to tell my wife I work in a neighborhood God and politics forgot, nobody cares about them. The only ones that care about them are the policemen and the firemen and the paramedics and teachers that work with them,” Fitzmaurice says in a Garcia campaign video that’s had a recent resurgence on social media.

“Everybody else has forgot about them — until election time. Then they’re there on election time because they want your vote. But then off they go and you’re stuck there, living your life, living your existence, trying to get through.”

And for that, Fitzmaurice told me this week, that guys like him are less worried about whether Garcia has a solid plan for coming up with the cash to pay for bolstering the police force, as long as he's a mayor who hires more police to patrol dangerous parts of town.

“I deal with crime every day. I’m tired of seeing kids getting shot. I’m tired of going to work and hearing that police don’t have any extra cars today, so use caution. I’m tired of asking, ‘Do we have CPD rolling with on this?’ And hearing that there’s no police car dispatched at this time,” the 61-year-old Montclare resident said.

“Rahm campaigned that he was going to add more police officers. Well, he lied. He simply lied. … I’m tired of him getting a pass.”

You could hear in Fitzmaurice's voice that he's just fed up. After 40 years on the job, he's spent too much time working in the neighborhoods that God and politics forgot to be bossed around by a man with plans that he says just haven't worked for people he serves every day.

"I know Mayor Emanuel signs my check, and the Fire Department has rules and regulations that I follow, but in my heart I work for the people who call 911. Those are the people I work for and I know they deserve better," Fitzmaurice said. "[Paramedics] want to have the mayor's ear and I'm not afraid of the backlash for saying so."

I asked Emanuel’s campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry how the mayor's detail-oriented, plan-based campaign competes with what many believe is Garcia’s main message: Emanuel is “out of touch" when it comes to the needs of neighborhood people.

Mayberry said, "Chicagoans are smarter than that."

"This is a campaign of someone who tells you the truth, versus a candidate who says he'll tell you the truth after the election," Mayberry said. "Chicagoans are smarter than that and are demanding an honest framework to balance budgets and secure our workers' pensions, not an empty promise to appoint a commission on April 8," he said. "The problems we face today have built up over three decades — during which time Chuy was in various elected offices and could have done something about it."

But Ald. Ricardo Munoz, the only sitting Latino alderman supporting Garcia, sees the runoff election as more of a mandate on the state of the city based on the Chicago voters see from their front stoops.

"The mayor likes to talk about how crime is down statistically. But which Chicago is he living in?" the alderman said. "The mayor's other issue is the hundreds and hundreds of jobs he has created. They're all Downtown. ... Which Chicago is he talking about when says how great it is? And it comes down to one question: Is the Chicago you're living in the one you like?"

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