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Despite woes, Rahm tough to beat

Updated: November 22, 2013 6:12AM

Everywhere I go, I get The Question.

On the South and West sides of Chicago. Downtown, Uptown, from South Beach to San Francisco. On the street, over dinner, at the gym.

“How’s Rahm doing?”

Even before he became the nation’s most powerful mayor, Rahm Emanuel was a formidable political celebrity. Now, past his mayoral midterm, inquiring minds everywhere want to know: How’s he doing?

I always offer up my husband’s favorite answer — another question: How is Chicago doing?

That depends on which Chicago you ask.

In one Chicago, they say Emanuel inherited and then revived an ailing city. He is an incorruptible, whirling dervish of government efficiency and accountability, single-minded about making Chicago a world-class city. Many in that Chicago dwell in the city’s prosperous inner core and are the wealthy and corporate interests Emanuel assiduously courts.

The “other” Chicago — in the ’hoods — retorts that Emanuel disrespects those who disagree with him, governs by fiat and spin, and wields power to benefit his elite cronies, at their expense.

In short, Chicago is simmering in political turmoil.

Last Tuesday night, the “other” chorus was in full voice, singing and speechifying. “You better watch out,” warbled the scratchy voices at the UIC Forum. “You better watch out, we takin’ Chicago back!”

The Take Back Chicago rally and town hall meeting, organized by the Grassroots Collaborative, drew about 2,000 “other” Chicagoans. The coalition of 34 groups, representing unions, community and civic organizations, churches and others, is organizing a movement to hold city aldermen and other elected officials accountable, including a certain mayor.

The collaborative is a nonprofit and can’t directly engage in electoral politics, said Executive Director Amisha Patel. But the crowd was fired up and fed up about joblessness, inadequate housing, health care and schools, city violence and myriad other complaints.

“People are really unhappy with the decisions being made that are affecting folks in the neighborhoods, day in and day out,” Patel told me Wednesday. They are “building something different that hasn’t been done before.” That is, a progressive, neighborhood-based network that will get an early jump in the electoral game.

In the coming days, look for Take Back Chicago to knock on doors and call across the city to educate voters and recruit passionate volunteers, she promised.

Emanuel is vulnerable, and not just among the Rahm-haters. His governing style chafes, he spends too much time burnishing his national image, and Chicago has way too much crime, not enough decent schools, and a persistent gap between the haves and have-nots.

Yet, even this far out from the February 2015 mayoral election, knocking off Emanuel is a monstrously tall order.

Emanuel is a master intimidator. Just ask any member of his cabinet, or a wayward alderman. Count the 5.1 million bucks he’s already amassed in his political fund.

Who is Take Back Chicago’s candidate? Sorry, Waguespack and Fioretti. The microphones are always at hand, but this mission requires a major name with charisma, cash and cojones; a respected, proven manager who can credibly lead a multiracial, multiethnic coalition.

There’s one sure pick, but Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle has repeatedly demurred.

Unless that changes, Rahm is just fine, thank you very much.


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