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Emanuel’s got a foot in each camp

Updated: May 31, 2011 4:47AM

Will Rahm Emanuel transcend race in the mayor’s race?

Some say his old boss Barack Obama did it in 2008. But that was America. This is Chi-CAW-guh.

The national press once sneered that our fair city was a racial “Beirut on the Lake.” Our fair citizens once threw hard rocks at a Nobel Prize-winning preacher named King. Chicago is still one of the nation’s most segregated cities, where race matters in how business gets done — or doesn’t.

So when Mayor Richard M. Daley announced his retirement last September, the city’s power establishment anguished over whether the first wide-open mayoral campaign in generations would reopen old racial wounds. It didn’t happen.

Last week, two major polls showed Emanuel with a commanding lead over five opponents. But the truly revelatory numbers were embedded in the polls’ breakouts: A WLS-Channel 7 survey of likely voters showed that 53 percent of African Americans and 47 percent of Latinos plan to vote for Emanuel. The Chicago Tribune/WGN-Channel 9 poll revealed that Emanuel was posting 48 percent of the black vote and 34 percent among Latinos.

Emanuel is closing in on the winning formula: A third, a third, and a third. The city’s population is about one-third white, a third African American and nearly as much Latino. After Daley’s announcement, I wrote that Chicago’s next mayor must have a foot in each ’hood. Emanuel is hangin’ — from Chatham to Pilsen to Uptown.

It’s an amazing feat, especially because the former White House chief of staff has run a Rose Garden, presidential-style campaign — skipping dozens of community forums and relying on a TV ad blitz. And here’s the beautiful part: Emanuel did it by flying high over the heads of Chicago’s African-American and Latino “leadership.”

Carol Moseley Braun, the black “consensus” candidate, touts a long list of prominent African-American backers, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, business leaders such as John Rogers and Frank Clark and a gaggle of aldermen and committeemen. Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle have trotted out their own share of Latino electeds.

Emanuel’s opponents have attacked him for dissing the city’s neighborhoods. For months, they argued he is not a “true Chicagoan.” Apparently, Chicagoans are not buying it.

They are buying this: The city is in crisis, mired in a $600 million budget deficit. Children are being murdered on the streets on a regular basis. Unemployment is rampant. Our public schools are substandard. Chicago is in triage mode. If you are being rushed into the ER on a gurney, do you care what color the surgeon is? Voters are looking for a qualified candidate to tackle all that ails us.

Hermene Hartman, publisher of ’N Digo, a newspaper aimed at the black middle class, shocked political observers last week when she threw her endorsement to Emanuel. Hartman has long been a hard-headed, hard-knuckled advocate for black political empowerment.

She is looking for a mayor with “innovation, extensive knowledge of the public and private sectors, proven management experience, political adroitness, and steely determination to solve the major issues facing Chicagoans as we move into an uncertain future,” Hartman wrote. “Rahm Emanuel is the person who most embodies these qualifications.”

The politics are complex. Obama and Daley may not be “endorsing,” but be sure they are winking and nodding at their old friend. Emanuel’s money, connections and perceived macho don’t hurt.

Still, voters get the final say. If Emanuel prevails, he will win — and must govern — thanks to a racial and ethnic coalition. That may not be transcending race, but in Chi-CAW-guh, it’s darn close.

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