April 1, 2015



Nevada's got it right. In that state there is a legally mandated ballot line for "None of the Above." It usually draws 6 to 10 percent of the vote.

In the upcoming mayoral runoff, both Rahm Emanuel and Chuy Garcia should be thankful that "None of the Above" is not on the ballot. It would draw a solid 25 to 30 percent of the vote. For Chicagoans, the Emanuel-Garcia choice is a "least worst" scenario, sort of like deciding whether one wants to be kicked or punched. Whoever wins will be a disaster.

Over the next 4 years, with city pensions underfunded by $17 billion (and Chicago's budget only $5.5 billion), property taxes will increase substantially, which means that property values will decrease. Here's some advice: Sell now. Get out of Chicago.

At a recent "Town Hall" meeting in Cleveland, President Barack Obama advocated a federal law that would make voting mandatory, sort of like "Obamacare" enrollment. I thought the Democrats were the "pro choice" party. Do we fine or jail those who don't vote? Or, perhaps, are those who don't vote making a choice? Maybe the choices aren't palatable.

Emanuel got 218,217 votes (45.6 percent of the total cast) on Feb. 24, to 259,987 votes for Garcia and the three other candidates. They got 41,770 more votes than Emanuel got, and the mayor got 110,508 fewer votes than he received in 2011. Since Chicago has 1,421,430 registered voters, that means that 84.6 percent of them either didn't vote or didn't vote for Emanuel and that 88.7 percent either didn't vote or didn't vote for Garcia. "None of the Above" was the clear winner.

Emanuel won nine wards with a majority of the vote and 31 wards with a plurality. Garcia won seven wards (all predominantly Hispanic) with a majority and three wards with a plurality. Emanuel topped Garcia in the 20 black-majority wards 43 percent to 26 percent. Turnout was 478,204, or 33.6 percent of registered voters. Citywide turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 1,015,634, or 71.5 percent of registered voters. Obama beat Mitt Romney in the city 853,102-148,181, getting 85.2 percent of the vote. Emanuel was Obama's White House chief of staff, and he got the president's emphatic endorsement prior to the election, yet he couldn't seal the deal. Turnout in February was down an enormous 534,413 from 2012, and Emanuel got 634,885 fewer votes than Obama got.

Nobody likes Rahm, but nobody likes Chuy either. Chicagoans face a choice between two flawed candidates, who many view as deceitful, clueless or untrustworthy. However, the good news is that whoever wins this year will never win in 2019, so the winner can only inflict damage for 4 years. Then somebody else can promise not to raise taxes, win, and do exactly that.

Mayor: The way to move polling numbers is through gross rating points, which means saturation media advertising, through television, print, direct mail and billboards. GRP is a measure of the size of the advertising campaign, quantified by the percentage of the target population (such as registered Chicago voters) who view the ad. For example, if 30 percent of the target watch the 10 p.m. news on Channels 2, 5 and 7 and a candidate has one ad on each per day, or 21 over a week, that's 630 gross rating points. More ads are inserted in the morning and noontime news, morning talk shows, afternoon soaps, evening prime time viewing, and non-pay-per-view cable.

Thus far Emanuel is leading Garcia in the GRP derby 7-1. According to a source that monitors television ads, Emanuel is buying about 14,000 GRPs per week and Garcia only about 2,000. The presumption is that each rating point means at least 1 percent of the target sees at least one Emanuel ad per week, with the goal being a minimum of five. Emanuel's campaign seeks to hit 50 percent of the target. That means 100 TV ads per day (or 600 per week), costing in excess of $1 million per week. Garcia is running fewer than 100 ads per week.

The result is Emanuel's worst nightmare: no movement. Despite having spent $20 million through Feb. 24 and another anticipated $10 million through April 7, Emanuel has hit his ceiling. He's mired at or near 50 percent in the polls.

An April 7 Chicago Tribune poll had the mayor up 51-37, with 12 percent of voters undecided, an April 7 Ogden & Fry poll had Emanuel up 47-37, with 16 percent undecided, a March13 Ogden & Fry poll had Emanuel up 47-37, with 16 percent undecided, and a March 28 Ogden & Fry poll had Emanuel up 47-34, with 18 percent undecided. Despite 16,000 weekly GRPs, only "None of the Above" is gaining traction.

In the world of pollsters, certain hard and fast rules apply. First, if a contest features an incumbent and he or she polls under 50 percent, the candidate is in dire jeopardy. It shows significant voter resistance, which can only be overcome by going negative and building even more voter resistance to one's opponent. Second, "undecided" voters rarely break for the incumbent; if they liked the incumbent, they'd say so, but they're not yet sold on the alternative. "Undecideds" usually break 2-1 or better for the challenger, and a third don't vote at all.

The good news for Emanuel is that Garcia hasn't yet broken 40 percent, and he is fading. Even if that hardy 16 to 18 percent broke 2-1 for Garcia, a 10 to 12 percent surge still wouldn't put him over 50 percent. That is the mayor's strategy: demonize Garcia and give voters a reason not to vote for him or to not vote at all.

Therein lies a real danger. Half the voters loathe the mayor; they intensely dislike him and intrinsically distrust him. They believe that he's the kind of politician who cares only about himself. Almost one-third of his 2011 supporters abandoned him in February. Emanuel's problem is that, by going negative on Garcia, he elevates Garcia's name recognition, telegraphs to every anti-Emanuel voter that Garcia is the guy to vote for, fosters "underdog" sympathy for Garcia, and creates Hispanic solidarity for Garcia. Garcia will get 70 to 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, which was 14 percent of the Feb. 24 turnout. What if the Hispanic turnout hits 20 percent of the April 7 vote? That's an extra 30,000 to 45,000 votes for Garcia. Emanuel had only 57,803 more votes than Garcia on Feb. 24.

Five factors will be determinative. First, neither candidate is seen as trustworthy. Second, neither candidate has unveiled a plausible solution for the pension shortfall. Third, neither candidate has promised not to raise property taxes, which means they will. Fourth, white voters are less resistant to voting for a Hispanic candidate than for a black candidate. In outlying white-majority wards, there are dozens of Hispanic families on every block and lots of Hispanic school kids. Whites and Hispanics have integrated; blacks and whites have not. Fifth, what difference does it make?

My prediction: In a turnout of 465,000, Emanuel will win by 5,000 votes.

45th Ward: In political terms, the Northwest Side 45th Ward qualifies as a landfill. Trash talking, trashing, fabrications and mounds of garbage. Hey, it's just another day at the office.
Voting households were deluged with about 40 mailed pieces up to Feb. 24, with another 25 expected through April 7. Alderman John Arena, who won by 30 votes in the 2011 runoff, is the City Council's most adamant anti-Emanuel voice. He faces a runoff rematch with John Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant. Here's the "scouting report":

Positioning and perception are critical . . . Arena's base is in the more liberal Portage Park, while Garrido's is in the more conservative Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park . . . Neither has endorsed for mayor . . . Polling indicates surprising support for Garcia, who got 35.0 percent of the vote in the ward on Feb. 24, to 48.1 percent for Emanuel . . . Garcia is strongest in the south end of the ward, where voters want to send an anti-Emanuel message, and with the ward's many city workers, cops and firefighters . . . The old Pat Levar organization and trades unions have mobilized for Emanuel . . . The anti-Emanuel, pro-Arena Service Employees International Union political action committee has spent heavily on multiple anti-Garrido mailings, some featuring Sarah Palin, portraying him as a Republican and a supporter of concealed carry . . . It's a replay of 2011 . . . "The usual lies," Garrido said . . . Garrido was endorsed by Michelle Baert, who got 1,726 votes on Feb. 24 . . . Arena topped Garrido in February 5,914-5,164, in a turnout of 13,008, getting 211 fewer votes than he got in the 2011 runoff, when he won 6,083-6,053, in a turnout of 12,136 . . . 54.5 percent of voters didn't vote for Arena . . . Arena is outspending Garrido 4-1, and the cost of SEIU's mailings is over $100,000 . . . Garrido just loaned his campaign $30,000, bringing his loan total to $60,000 . . . Arena's mailers hype that he has "filled 1,938 potholes" and paved "19 miles of streets," and that he orchestrated the ward's "economic redevelopment" while "standing up" to the mayor . . . To many voters, that's pure fantasy.

My prediction: Emanuel voters are the key. If they vote for the mayor because they are anti-Garcia, some may opt for Arena. If they like the mayor, they won't vote for Arena. Even if they're weary of Arena's combative style and do-it-my-way attitude, they might back him to provide a check on the mayor. Conversely, if they vote for Garcia because he's a "progressive," that's an Arena voter. If one is a relic and onetime backer of the Tom Lyons-Levar organization, their vote will be Emanuel-Garrido. The ward's Republicans, reflected by Romney's 6,207 votes in 2012, will go Emanuel-Garrido. Arena will win by 200 votes.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.