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Chicago gun violence may cost ‘Rahmbo’ his job

Published time: July 25, 2014 15:45
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (AFP Photo / Mandel Ngan)

A particularly violent July in Chicago - following years of staggeringly-high numbers of homicides in the city - has drawn attention to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign, raising questions about his chances of surviving a challenge in 2015.

Polls out this month show “Rahmbo,” the famously audacious former congressman and chief of staff for President Obama, significantly lagging behind potential challengers to his seat in November 2015.

The poll showing the worst deficit for Emanuel, where he trailed Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis by 9 points - was released shortly after a particularly gruesome Fourth of July weekend, when more than 80 people were reportedly shot, 16 of them fatally.

Around 76 people were shot in the following two weekends, with eight of those victims dying, including 11-year-old Shamiya Adams, who was killed by a stray bullet on July 18 while making s’mores at a friend’s slumber party. Police say the bullet that hit Adams was errantly fired by a teenager looking to avenge a friend’s beating in a fistfight.

Before the bloody July, Emanuel’s office maintained that overall violent crime in the city is down after a nationwide high of more than 500 homicides in 2012 and 415 in 2013. And though the rates of homicide and violent crime are down from last year, the number of shootings in the city has increased.

"The buck stops with him because he's the mayor," said Jackson Potter, staff coordinator for the Chicago Teachers Union, according to The Huffington Post. "He's done a poor job and not reduced violence in a way that will make our neighborhoods safer in any credible fashion. We've had leadership by press release instead of substantive ideas that address the heartbreaking violence that permeates the streets in the city."

Reuters / Chris Helgren

A rash of public-school closings on the city’s south and west sides - areas with the most poverty and violent crime in Chicago - have not endeared Emanuel to the majority black and Latino communities most affected by the shutdowns.

Lewis, who has said she is "seriously considering" a run for mayor, organized a massive teacher strike in 2012 as a result of the mass school closings. Her relationship with Emanuel is publicly bitter, as she has labeled him the "murder mayor" while it was reported that Emanuel blew up at her - yelling "F*ck you, Lewis!" - during a private meeting in 2011.

Overall, the Emanuel administration has "the general problem of the perceived arrogance and unwillingness to have citizens involved in making decisions about the city," said Dick Simpson, a University of Illinois-Chicago political science professor and former city alderman.

The Chicago Sun-Times poll that showed Lewis leading Emanuel in a potential race also had another potential challenger, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, leading him by 24 points. The poll results showed Emanuel losing the backing of the city’s black population, which supported Lewis and Preckwinkle over the mayor by about 18 and 30 percentage points, respectively.

Preckwinkle, who has not ruled out a mayoral run as of yet, led Emanuel by eight points in a poll conducted this month by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research. Lewis was not included in the Anzalone survey.

The mayor’s office called the Sun-Times poll results “laughable” at the time, but experts believe he should heed the warnings.

"The polls show Rahm is not invincible," Simpson said, adding that voters aren’t likely to forget the violent summer of 2014 even as crime will inevitably dip over the winter, when the mayoral election will occur in February of next year.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaks to demonstrators protesting school closings on March 27, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson)

Emanuel has taken some steps to address the ongoing violence. On Monday, he hosted a private summit with community leaders and law enforcement to discuss steps that can be taken to make the city safer. He also recently announced that federal funding to the tune of $10 million will be provided for two youth initiatives including a school dropout and violence-prevention program.

Adam Collins, spokesman for the mayor, told Huffington Post that "there’s still too much gun violence and much more work remains for everyone involved," yet progress has been made through, for example, partnerships with local leaders and ministers in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"Mayor Emanuel has said there will be a time for politics, but what’s important today is continuing to make progress so every child has the opportunity for a bright future and everyone in every neighborhood can enjoy the same sense of safety," Collins said in the statement.

But Rev. Corey Brooks, pastor at New Beginnings Church in the Woodlawn area, agreed that violence had to be a major issue in the campaign, and that if Emanuel wants to be more serious about curbing the danger many citizens face everyday, he must take into account the advice of those in affected communities.

"I think if it's not birthed in the mayor's office or City Hall, they don't take it into consideration," Brooks told Huffington Post. "What has to happen is for them to go outside of their office and consider other possibilities and solutions before anything else can be done.”

“If not, we're going to continue to see what we see every day: More violence,” he added.