MCKINLEY PARK — The way former Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia figures it, if his 2015 campaign for mayor had been a baseball team, it would have won the World Series.
"We batted close to a thousand, right?" said Garcia, who lost the April 2015 runoff against Rahm Emanuel.
Garcia may not have won the most votes, but Emanuel ended up adopting planks in Garcia's platform as his own, including expanding the Police Department and hiking property taxes to deal with the city's structural deficit.
After a brutal 2015 — when Emanuel saw his approval rating slip to 18 percent after the release of video showing a Chicago Police officer shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times — the mayor boosted his political standing by taking four major components of Garcia's unsuccessful challenge and making them his own.
Emanuel vanquished Garcia, but he found he had lost clout: He couldn't overcome the vehement objections to his plan to build the Lucas Museum on the lakefront, near Soldier Field. Filmmaker George Lucas fled with his museum plans to California, dealing Emanuel a major blow.
But things began to change for the mayor after he gave a speech in September in which he pledged to redouble his effort to fight violence by hiring more officers, reforming the Police Department and spending $36 million on mentoring programs. By October, the mayor's approval rating had climbed to 44 percent.
Garcia said he wasn't sure why it took the mayor so long to "acknowledge the obvious" solutions he pushed during the campaign: hire more police; raise property taxes to pay pension bills; use TIF funds to fight deep classroom cuts; invest on the South and West sides of the city suffering from high unemployment and crime rates.
Emanuel's 2016 agenda adopted all of those policies. In public appearance after public appearance this year, Emanuel has pointed to progress and painted Chicago as a city on the upswing after a difficult period, even as it works to stem the violence that has killed more than 750 people this year.
Emanuel's actions are a total "vindication" of his campaign, Garcia said in an interview with DNAinfo in his McKinley Park office. But Emanuel's moves haven't translated into real progress for Chicagoans, the Cook County commissioner representing the 7th District said.
"We've only seen impassioned speeches by the mayor and some tears," Garcia said.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia puts together holiday gifts at his McKinley Park office. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
Garcia said it was "predictable" that the mayor would seize his policy ideas, even after Emanuel called Garcia's pledge to hire 1,000 new officers "fairy dust."
The city's 2017 spending plan includes $60 million to hire 250 new officers, 92 new field-training officers, 100 new detectives, 37 new sergeants and 50 new lieutenants, with a similar number of police personnel set to be hired in 2018.
Stopping the violence is the city's greatest challenge, Garcia said.
In his last news conference of the year, Emanuel said he wanted to end the gun violence that has "wreaked havoc" on communities throughout the South and West sides.
Emanuel declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this article, and did not respond in detail to Garcia's statements.
During the runoff, Emanuel slammed Garcia for voting as an alderman during the 1980s to support an $80 million property tax hike proposed by former Mayor Harold Washington.
A few months after the election, Emanuel proposed a $589 million property tax hike phased in over four years, touting it as the only way to fill the city's massive deficit and shore up pensions for police officers and firefighters.
"[Emanuel] sought to portray me as a huge risk," Garcia said. "Sowing doubt and fear was the only path to victory."
One the mayor's biggest victories of 2016 was avoiding a second teachers strike in four years. But he did it by giving schools millions of dollars in TIF funds that had been collected by the city to spur the redevelopment of blighted areas.
Garcia, who had been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, had promised to do the same during his campaign — prompting Emanuel to criticize him as beholden to the union, which has long been his fiercest political foe.
In addition, Emanuel's 2017 budget created a $100 million investment fund with taxpayer money designed to encourage investors to look south of Roosevelt Road and west of Ashland Avenue.
During the campaign, Garcia called for the mayor to target neighborhoods outside of Downtown for investment as a way of spurring economic development. He said he doesn't like Emanuel's investment fund approach, but he said that boosting neighborhoods is "the key to make the city more equitable."
"That's what is holding the city back," he said.
Garcia — who declined to rule out another run for mayor in 2019, when Emanuel is expected to seek a third term — said the political landscape had changed since the last municipal election due to the election of Donald Trump as president — and the success of Bernie Sanders in the Illinois Democratic primary, where he came within 2 percentage points of defeating Hillary Clinton.
"People are looking at things differently," Garcia said. "The mindset has changed. People's eyes have been open."
Trump's victory — which came after he promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to remove legal protections for immigrants who came to America as children — has prompted Garcia to rethink his political future.
"Trump's election has been a transformative event," Garcia said. "I need some time to rethink my plans."
As for Emanuel's future, the mayor has indicated that he intends to run again, though he wants to talk it over with his wife, Amy Rule. In his budget address in October, the mayor touted his efforts in funding schools and fighting crime as well as investing in neighborhoods. He acknowledged and thanked homeowners who "are being asked to step up."
"Together we are writing a new chapter in our city's remarkable history," Emanuel said.
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