“BIONIC MAN” EMANUEL
By doing the unthinkable, Rahm Emanuel has burst forth as the new Bionic Man of Northwest Side politics.
Not only is Emanuel Chicago’s political Rookie of the Year, but he also established himself as a record-breaking votegetter in his maiden campaign. After spending over $2 million on major-media, prime-time TV ads, over $800,000 on a deluge of direct-mail pieces, and having the benefit over nearly 3,000 primary-day precinct workers (provided by local Democratic organizations), Emanuel’s March 19 victory for the Democratic congressional nomination in the Northwest Side 5th District was not unexpected. What was unexpected was its enormity.
Back in 1994, then-incumbent Dan Rostenkowski faced a similar challenge. At that time, Rostenkowski was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office concerning office improprieties (but was not yet indicted); he was also the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and had held the set for 36 years. He had a tough primary against four foes, spent over $2 million, had support from all the ward organizations and from Mayor Rich Daley, and, in a record-breaking turnout of 93,246, triumphed with 46,683 votes (50.1 percent). And remember: this was a non-presidential year primary, when turnout is usually down by 25 percent.
After being indicted, Rostenkowski was upset by Republican Mike Flanagan. In the 1996 primary, Rod Blagojevich and Nancy Kaszak, both then state representatives, competed for the Democratic congressional nomination. Blagojevich spent close to $1.5 million, had support from all the committeemen and from Daley, and triumphed 33,907-26,115. Despite it being a presidential year, turnout was down to 68,043, a falloff of 27 percent from 1994.
But in this year’s primary, with Blagojevich vacating the seat to run for governor, voters’ interest again peaked. With both Emanuel and Blagojevich spending heavily, and with local political organizations backing both, turnout soared to 92,625 in the congressional race, and Emanuel came in with 46,774 votes (50.4 percent), to Kaszak’s 35,716, with the rest scattered among six other contenders. And, as can be discerned from the adjoining vote chart, Emanuel actually polled about 100 more votes in 2002 than did Rostenkowski in 1994, and polled almost 13,000 more votes than did Blagojevich in 1996.
Emanuel’s victory can be attributed to the following:
First, Emanuel deftly integrated his media campaign with his personal campaigning. He became a ubiquitous presence in the district, regularly appearing at rapid transit stops, before church and community groups, and knocking on doors in precincts. By going up on TV early, Emanuel became a mini-celebrity, and voters recognized him when they saw him, further bolstering his appeal.
Second, Emanuel ran as a Washington insider (as did Rostenkowski in 1994) – and it worked. Emanuel has no roots in the district, and was a senior White House counsel to President Bill Clinton until 1998. He then left Washington to make big bucks as an investment broker. But his TV ads made it appear that he was a veritable political Goliath, directing Clinton’s congressional agenda. He audaciously took credit for getting the Brady Bill (restricting handguns) through Congress, blithely called for the extension of federal health care coverage to every uninsured child (but never mentioned the cost), and likewise demanded free prescription drugs for senior citizens. And, quite incredibly, voters bought his line.
Third, Kaszak ran an insipid, unfocused campaign, and was stunned by the negative response to Polish National Alliance president Ed Moskal’s boneheaded remarks about Emanuel – which the media hyped as being anti-Semetic. Kaszak got the exact same percentage of the vote in 2002 (38.5 percent) as she got in 1996 (38.4 percent), even though she amassed 9,601 more votes. She couldn’t compete with Emanuel either in fundraising or precinct coverage. Also, her strategy of portraying herself as the “ethnic” candidate, highlighting her Polish-American roots, flopped in the district’s heavily ethnic west end, and boomeranged in the more liberal east end.
As can be discerned from the vote chart, Kaszak doubled her vote over 1996 in the 45th, 41st and 44th wards, and increased it by over 50 percent in the 38th, 39th and 47th wards. That should have been a ticket to victory. But, of the 13 wards and two suburban townships in the 5th District, she won just two – the 30th Ward and Leyden Township.
Many liberal and Jewish votes recoiled from the Moskal incident, as is evident from Emanuel’s strong showing in the 40th (57.5 percent) and 39th (56.7 percent) wards, which have sizeable Jewish voter blocs, as well as in the Lakefront 43rd (59.1 percent), 44th (59.2 percent), and 46th (64.9 percent) wards, which have a huge liberal and Jewish voter base. Kaszak, to win, needed to carry the wards east of Kedzie by 2-1, and run even in the west end, where she expected her ethnicity to be a factor. She got 42 percent in the 45th Ward, 42.9 percent in the 38th Ward, and 41.5 percent in the 41st Ward, running almost even with Emanuel.
But she lost her east end base by 60-40, where Emanuel’s “victimization” carried thousands of votes; got buried in Bill Banks’ 36th Ward (losing 5,433-3,495); lost the 47th Ward 4,847-4,399, despite Ed Kelly’s backing; and lost big in the 39th, 40th, 33rd and 32nd wards.
Also, she went negative on Emanuel too late, after he had already defined himself. Her “from the community, for the community” pitch fell flat.
And, fourth, as is obvious, the committeemen delivered. Daley weighed in for Emanuel, once he was reasonably confident Emanuel could and would win. Emanuel was on all the primary-date palm cards. And the big turnout generated by Blagojevich brought the controllable organization vote to the polls.
But, quite interestingly, Paul Vallas almost beat Blagojevich in the 5th District, and did beat him in the 45th and 41st wards. It appears that many of the Vallas voters in the east end and central wards opted for Emanuel, too. The adjoining vote chart takes in all the precincts in all the wards and townships in the vote for governor, even though the 5th District may have only parts. But what is obvious is that, at crunch time, the west end committeemen delivered Rostenkowski-like votes for Emanuel, and the east end liberals delivered a scathing repudiation to Kaszak’s ethnic strategy.
Emanuel faces Republican Mark Augusti in November. But, unlike Rostenkowski, Emanuel has no indictment hanging over his head, so a Flanagan-like upset is unlikely.
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