The Man Who Would Be Mayor

I don't get a vote in the Chicago mayoral race. I live in the suburbs, and while my prosperity is in many ways caught up in Chicago's, I rightfully don't participate in the democratic process there. I leave that to the people who claim a Chicago residential address--people like Rahm Emmanuel.

Of course, Emmanuel's claim of a Chicago residential address is in dispute these days, and that's a matter of national (even international) interest, since Rahm is far and away the front-runner in Chicago's mayoral election.

I should quickly note that technically he's the front-runner in Chicago's Democratic mayoral primary, with the assumption that whoever wins the primary will win the election proper. Chicago is a Democratic city--thanks in large part to the "Chicago machine," which manages democracy like Google manages word searches, by which I mean steering the expressed desires of the people toward a sponsored selection. If I search for "tires" on Google, I am met with a sidebar of ads for tires, as well as four sponsored links topping the list of my search results. Technically I've expressed my desire, and technically Google has answered it, but in reality the Pep Boys ad budget is the real winner.

That's right: I just compared Rahm Emmanuel to Pep Boys. I mean no disrespect.

Anyway, Rahm Emmanuel would be the heir apparent to Chicago's mayoral office, except for the nagging detail that he hasn't lived in Chicago for two years, and election laws require that he have lived in Chicago for a year prior to the election. As I understand it (and I doubt I fully understand it), Rahm's response is that he was acting in service to his country by taking the position of President Obama's chief of staff, and that such national service overrides residency requirements.

According to Rahm, it's clear from the preponderance of evidence that he never stopped calling Chicago home, that he always intended to return, that the spirit of the thing overrides the letter of the thing. Rahm has, arguably, been an expatriate citizen of Chicago, and his bid for the mayor's office represents his grand homecoming. The problem is, it's also clear from the preponderance of evidence that he did stop calling Chicago home, that he had relocated for the foreseeable future to Washington, D.C., that he returned to Chicago only when the way seemed clear for him to assume the mayor's office.

So we have the far-and-away favorite candidate for the Chicago mayor's office disputing a seemingly clear residency requirement that, for now at least, has him off the ballot. Presumably, even a write-in campaign wouldn't resolve in Rahm's favor; he's off the ballot because he's ineligible to be mayor, not because he's ineligible to campaign.

Chicago is (or claims to be, or wants to be) a world-class city, but it has a lot of the marks of an extremely local city. The Chicago Way, much discussed since a Chicagoan assumed the U.S. presidency, assures that democracy and free markets and other nagging details don't get in the way of smooth operation. In Chicago it's the insiders who rule, and in this one small way, Rahm is an outsider.

But Rahm is also one of only two candidates for mayor with a global reputation, and his is the only good global reputation. The failed efforts of Chicago's current mayor to make Chicago a city of the world--most notably, the failed bid to bring the Olympics here in 2016--reveal perhaps the Achilles heel of the Chicago machine: we're too insular, too cloistered to be anything more than a major midwestern city; we'll never be more, in the imagination of the world, than the collective caricature of Al Capone, Michael Jordan and the Blues Brothers, with a side of cheese sauce and Polish sausage.

Rahm has appealed his residency problem to the Illinois Supreme Court, which I expect will overturn the appellate court's ruling against him. They'll do it not because Rahm's in compliance with the rules of candidacy for Chicago's mayoral office, but because he's what the city and the state want: an insider with an outsider's address; a would-be mayor with a fondness for the city and an unmatched rolodex. And it would not be the Chicago Way to let a little thing like a law get in the way of what Chicago wants.


Anonymous said…
Well said, though I don't think it is a foregone conclusion that Illinois Supreme Ct is going to vote his way.
Anonymous said…
Hmmm...although I respect your opinion I'm not sure you are entitled to one if you are not a resident of Chicago. If you are not going to be voting in the upcoming election, why does all of this matter to you?
David Zimmerman said…
That's a fair question. I'm not expressing a preference, per se. I'm observing the process. But I'd argue that, my lack of residency notwithstanding, the fate of any Illinoisian is caught up in the fate of Chicago; such is the scope of its economy and the overwhelming cultural shadow it casts. Businesses are attracted to the suburbs at least partly thanks to their proximity to Chicago, and deals are struck with the state that benefit Chicago. Culturally I benefit from (or suffer from) the decisions made by Chicago government, and the city benefits from my discretionary spending even as it deals with my local-tourist conceit. Chicago and I have a symbiotic relationship, so while I don't have a vote, I would argue that I have a stake--certainly more of a stake (at least day-to-day) than the Hollywood money pouring into certain campaign coffers.
Anonymous said…
I can see your point, although I find it quite ironic that you are facinated by a mayoral candidate's residency status when you yourself are not a resident.
David Zimmerman said…
Well, if you're like me, you get a kick out of irony--maybe most especially when you're the subject of it. And in all honesty, I'm fascinated by any number of things that have far less to do with me than this; I'll blather on about pretty much anything given the chance.
Anonymous said…
Ha, ha! Touche.....

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