Even before the gun violence in Chicago last weekend that took the lives of four people in 40 shooting incidents, and the July Fourth weekend when 16 people were shot to death and 66 injured, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in political hot water.
Formerly chief of staff to President Barack Obama; a U.S. congressman; and a top aide to President Bill Clinton, Emanuel was himself regarded as a future Democratic presidential hopeful almost immediately after capturing Chicago City Hall in 2011.
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But because of increasingly sour relations with Chicago's minority community and a prolonged teachers strike in 2012, Emanuel is now an embattled politician facing a difficult re-election battle in seven months.
Emanuel's major dilemma is not unlike that of most big-city mayors: unfunded pensions for city employees. The Chicago teachers' pension fund is only 54 percent unfunded. Far worse at an average of 67 percent unfunded, according to the credit agency Fitch, are the city's police and firefighters' pension funds. Emanuel has come under fire in his latest budget for failing to set aside enough money for pensions.
More dramatically, a seven-day teachers' strike was driven by the closing of 50 elementary schools and cuts of 3,000 jobs from the school system. Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union, called the school closures "racist" and "classist."
Emanuel, at the close of a meeting about extending the school year by 90 days, reportedly yelled at the union boss: "F--- you, Lewis!"
"[Former Mayor Richard M.] Daley was in office for more than 20 years because he dealt with everyone," an organized labor lobbyist with strong ties to the Democratic Party in Chicago told Newsmax. "Emanuel is in trouble because he only deals with the moneyed people in the North Shore."
Chicago radio talk-show host Dan Proft was even blunter: "How unpopular is Rahm? Even the outlandish Alinskyite [referring to Saul Alinsky, the founder of modern community organizing] and Chicago Teachers Union boss — I repeat myself — Karen Lewis is up 9 points on Rahm in a recent survey. However, Karen Lewis is perhaps the one thing more frightening than a second Rahm term.
"He is in deep trouble, but only if a viable opponent presents themselves. Toni Preckwinkle is well positioned to win, but she is not going to run."
Proft was referring to an announcement days ago from Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, that she would not run for mayor next year.
At 67, Preckwinkle is the highest-elected black official in Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago. A just-completed poll commissioned by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that among likely voters citywide, Preckwinkle demolished Emanuel by a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent. (All candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of party in the mayoral election next February).
The same poll showed teachers union president Lewis defeating the mayor by 45 percent to 36 percent. Lewis recently told reporters she was "seriously thinking" about running against her arch-nemesis Emanuel next year. Already planning to run for mayor are former alderman Robert Shaw and community organizer Amara Enyia.
In 1963, amid turmoil surrounding the police department and mounting allegations of corruption, Mayor Richard J. Daley (father of Richard M.) barely survived a challenge from former Cook County State's Attorney Ben Adamowski, who had broken Daley's backing among the business community and in ethnic neighborhoods.
Proft believes a scenario similar to '63 could occur in 2015 if Karen Lewis were to run and there was a credible center-right candidate who could appeal to the business community. But dislodging the politically promiscuous financiers from Rahm Emanuel is the challenge to a serious center-right challenge, he said.
Proft noted, however, that the pro-Emanuel "Super PAC" Chicago Forward last month raised $1 million in 10 days.
"Most potential challengers are cowered by Rahm's money and access to it," he said, "but sometimes there is not enough money in the world to sell manure-smelling air freshener, which is analogous to the record Rahm has to sell in '15."
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John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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