CHICAGO — If City Hall had released the Laquan McDonald shooting video before the April election, a new poll of city voters suggests Rahm Emanuel wouldn’t be mayor today.
The telephone survey of Chicagoans who voted in the February city elections showed that if a mayoral ballot showdown between the mayor and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia were held today, Emanuel would have received only 28 percent of the vote.
Fifty one percent of respondents said they would vote for "someone else."
The poll, commissioned by Aldertrack, DNAinfo Chicago and WGN Radio, also asked respondents if they would have changed their vote for mayor in the April runoff if they had seen the now-infamous dashcam video of a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times until the boy was dead. The officer has since been charged with murder.
The results also showed that 28 percent of voters would have checked a different box on the ballot.
If you assume that people who changed their votes were Emanuel supporters — and it wouldn’t be a stretch, since protesters have been calling for Emanuel’s resignation since the video was released last month — a 28 percentage point swing would have been enough to give Garcia a landslide victory.
That calculation, of course, is based on voter responses to survey questions that stemmed from a what-if scenario planted and fertilized in print by Tribune columnist John Kass, which has since sprouted into water cooler chats and social media posts the Emanuel administration wishes would just go away.
On Tuesday, after Emanuel’s mea culpa on the devastating effects racism and a code of silence within the Police Department has had on generations of Chicagoans living in neglected parts of town, the mayor said he didn’t want to look in the rearview mirror.
And it’s safe to assume the boss also doesn’t want Chicagoans wishing there was a time machine they could use to vote him out of office.
His election challenger doesn’t want to go back in time, either.
Chuy Garcia, reached on the phone before suppertime Thursday, said he’s never been a guy who looks back and has regrets. And he still doesn’t — well, mostly.
“When I was first asked about such an explosive video, I told John Kass I think the video would have had a profound impact if people would have seen it,” Garcia said.
“The shock that came when people saw it shows why folks went to great extents to make sure the video wasn’t shown. They probably were betting they could keep it from ever getting in the public domain. And now that it has come to light, Chicago is feeling convulsions of that act and the implications it has for our criminal justice system,” he said.
To be fair, Emanuel has said that politics didn’t play into his administration’s decision to pay Laquan’s family $5 million in a settlement that included a clause to keep the video secret or city attorney Steve Patton’s attempt to stop a judge from unsealing the video at a journalist's request.
On Tuesday, the mayor said he went along with the city’s longtime policy to keep videos under wraps to protect the integrity of a criminal investigation — and that was the wrong thing to do.
Emanuel, now that U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has launched a federal investigation into the Police Department, also promised Chicagoans he would change the way police videos and officer misconduct investigation reports are released to the public in the future.
The Mayor's Office didn't respond to calls for comment about the poll results.
As much as Garcia would have liked to have been elected and given the chance to bring real change to Chicago’s criminal justice system, he recognizes that some good has come from the way things turned out.
“In some ways, everything that transpired is showing how rotten some things have been, and given people justification for not trusting the municipal criminal justice system, and being suspect of the system,” Garcia said.
“The fact that the feds are involved may be a real good thing. It may allow us to drill deep in to the problems that have accumulated over decades in the criminal justice system, and they might be in stronger position to force change.”
Then again, Garcia said, he’s a guy who lives on a block pocked by vacant houses, sandwiched between communities on the South and West sides suffering the pangs of poverty, neglect and the worst of the city’s shooting problem.
He said his perspective on Chicago would have been good for our city.
“I believe in social justice and having the pulse on what’s going on in our neighborhoods. I don’t just know about, but I see the effect of the great distrust some of the public has in the municipal criminal justice system,” he said.
“During the campaign I talked about having a public safety summit after being sworn in as mayor because I saw the urgency of me doing that. And all that turned out to be right on point. It just came in a more shocking, rapid-fire way. And who knows what more might come out in the coming days?”
Garcia said he hasn’t decided if he’ll run for mayor in 2019, but not just because that’s a long time away.
“The results of the election says the mayor is in office until 2019. But I don’t know what's going on in the mayor’s head in terms of all the protests or the revelations that might come to light,” Garcia said.
He offered up questions: “Where will the investigation by the feds go? How long take will it take? Do we have a new reality now with the [state Rep.] LaShawn Ford bill [on mayoral recall in Chicago] being introduced [in the state Legislature]? Will the mayor resign?”
There are just too many questions, Garcia told me.
There are a couple of things Garcia thinks are perfectly clear about the actions of the Emanuel administration and how Chicagoans feel about the mayor.
“A lot of things were being covered up, and there’s a lot of resentment because people believe things that were said just weren’t true,” Garcia said.
It's the talk of the town.
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