Rahmbo playing to the crowd in runoff election

The latest polls show incumbent Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel still leading his runoff race against Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, although the 45-38 margin is well below 50%, and a large number of Chicagoans are still undecided at 18%.

Analysts believe that the black vote will be key for the April 7 runoff.  If that's the case, Emanuel may very well be in big trouble:

Perhaps more than any other issue, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has found himself fighting for his political life over his decision to close 50 underused and underperforming schools, nearly all of them in heavily black neighborhoods. His opponents in last month’s mayoral race hammered him for that.

And it’s a key issue in his unexpected runoff in April against top challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County Board member who has strong support from the Chicago Teachers Union, which opposed the closings. In February, voters living near the closed schools gave the incumbent less support than he found citywide, by about 3-5 percentage points, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis shows.

And they backed the two black mayoral candidates, Willie Wilson and William “Dock” Walls, in bigger numbers — by nearly twice the percentage points those candidates gained across the city. Here’s a look at the vote around each closed school building.

Chicago schools were facing a billion-dollar budget shortfall at the time, thanks to Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley's huge school building program, and a pension crisis that still hasn't been resolved.  At the time of the cuts, 141 of the city's 681 schools were operating half-empty.

But Emanuel may have found a populist issue that will help him in black communities.  There are more than 350 red-light cameras in the city, more than in any other city in America.  A Chicago Tribune investigation revealed sloppy oversight of the program and a "disparate impact" on residents of the largely black south side.  The $100 fine hits poor people hard, and blacks claim that the system is too arbitrary to be fair.

Emauel's opponent has said that he will eliminate all red-light cameras his "first day in office."  So Emanuel has embraced a proposal to remove 50 of the red-light cameras – mostly in the black community – while also giving first offenders a break by allowing them to attend a traffic class instead of paying the fine.

Chicago Tribune:

Flanked by half a dozen aldermen and transportation chief, the mayor said he supports a proposed ordinance to give first-time offenders “a mulligan” by allowing them to avoid the $100 fine and instead take an online traffic course.

Emanuel deflected questions about the timing of his announcement by suggesting this is one in a series of reforms he has instituted in the past two and half years.

“This technology, enforced properly, where people have confidence and trust in its operation, can bring the level of safety and security we need, also freeing up our officers to do their jobs,” Emanuel said.

“Red light (cameras) have been proven time and again, in every study, to reduce the most dangerous type of crashes, which is the side crashes,” he said. “We know that while we are doing that, we also have to build the trust in the community and throughout the city of Chicago ... that this is going to be operated fairly, with a level of transparency.”

Emanuel has staunchly defended the program amid a series of Tribune investigations that exposed his administration's failed oversight, unfair and inconsistent enforcement, and unsupported safety claims. The mayor has been gradually removing cameras since the Tribune's series started, but even after the removal of 50 under the latest move, Chicago will still have more than 300.

It will remain the largest automated red light enforcement program in the nation.

In a statement released before the news conference began, Garcia accused Emanuel of panicking over the public opposition to the program.

“This new move by Mayor Emanuel is too little, too late,” said Garcia. “I am confident voters will see this announcement today for what it is — pure politics. It's time for a change.”

Garcia is running a shoestring campaign, while Emanuel still has millions to spend between now and the April 7 runoff.  But Garcia's advantage is that he isn't named Rahm Emanuel.  He hasn't a clue of what to do about the city's $300-million structural deficit or how to deal with a Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, in Springfield who wants to cut state payments to the city.  But Emanuel is so unpopular that people might take a chance on Garcia just to be rid of Rahm.

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