CHICAGO — Our mayor isn’t on the ballot, but Election Day could be a harbinger for Rahm Emanuel’s political future.
First, there’s the Democratic presidential primary.
“Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd put it this way Sunday morning: If Hillary Clinton loses in Illinois … “it is on Rahm Emanuel. … He's a toxic figure, that just is what it is. But it's fascinating how she's getting punished for Rahm.”
Emanuel, who once was rumored as a potential Clinton running mate, was among the first to start raising money for Clinton in 2014, and appeared on national TV shows to tick off reasons why Clinton was a better candidate than Vice President Joe Biden.
As recently as Aug. 18, Emanuel used a CTA press conference to proudly predict, “Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, and Hillary Clinton will be the president of the United States.”
These days, it appears Emanuel — the political attack dog who helped Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in 2006 — has been either muzzled by the Clinton campaign or placed under self-imposed gag order leading up to Election Day.
Either way, the mayor will be watching the fourth quarter of this primary showdown between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) from the bench.
That’s got everything to do with the firestorm of criticism unleashed on City Hall after Emanuel’s Law Department lost its court fight to keep the Laquan McDonald video secret.
Sanders, emboldened by recent poll results, blasted out three TV commercials aimed at reminding Chicago voters — the biggest Democratic voting bloc in the state — that the mayor who closes schools, fires teachers and may have been involved in what some consider the "cover-up" of the Laquan shooting video is Clinton's staunchest supporter.
Sanders called Emanuel a “terrible mayor” and suggested Chicagoans are right to call for his resignation.
He even went so far to thank Rahm for not endorsing him.
A Sanders upset in Illinois on Tuesday could make Emanuel’s biggest foes — the radical left-leaning liberals led by the powerful Chicago Teachers Union — even more powerful as they fight the mayor over the teachers contract and look to unseat him in 2019.
And Emanuel, unlike former Mayor Richard M. Daley, doesn’t have the same kind of powerful, citywide political machine to fight them off.
“Chicago has become the heart of left-wing radical activism and that was not the case eight to 10 years ago. They have a better ability to organize,” a trusted source told me.
“And there’s no machine to beat them back. If Bernie wins it emboldens them even more and, looking at the next election, we’re set up for something like the scenario that got [Bill] de Blasio elected in New York.”
That’s not even the worst-case scenario for Emanuel.
Add a Clinton loss with a win by Kim Foxx in her bid to unseat Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in a three-way race with challenger Donna More, and that would be an even bigger hit to Emanuel’s local influence.
A victory by Foxx, who is backed by her former boss Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, could signal a shift in political might that some say was foreshadowed when Chicago Magazine this year put the Preckwinkle atop Emanuel in its annual “power rankings.”
“Given Rahm’s decline, the impact [of a Foxx win] could be on perception and that’s important,” a top political source said.
“Toni doesn’t have a super-sophisticated operation with big funders where she’s thought to be the next king- or queen-maker, but she’s invested in the state’s attorneys race. … It would be no small success and it’s a win she could build on going forward.”
Even if Clinton wins and Foxx falters, the mayor still has some pretty big problems to fix.
Maybe we’ll hear Rahm’s take once the votes are counted … and Hillary takes off the muzzle.
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