Former Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Garry McCarthy has released a public video declaring his intention to run against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next year’s mayoral election.
In the video, McCarthy makes his case for why he should replace the former high-level advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to lead the Windy City:
“Unfortunately, Chicago’s city government has lost our trust because of failed policies and the endless politics of bluster and bullying. I’m running for mayor to change that…”
“Under this mayor, we’re awash in higher taxes, corruption, school closings, and violent crime. We don’t have to live like this…”
“The mayor has promised results for years, but he’s failed over and over again. It’s time for new leadership in city hall that will fix our problems and pull us together.”
McCarthy also holds up his parents, especially his father, who was both a World War II veteran and a police detective, as the “epitome of the Greatest Generation” and a strong inspiration for his personal values. The former police chief does not use the video to spell out specific proposals that he would support as mayor, instead preferring to outline broad objectives to “stop school closings,” “bring tax fairness” to middle class and working Chicagoans, and “reduce violent crime.” (His website does contain some loosely-defined policy proposals, but they are clearly still in the development stage.)
Regardless, as the race currently stands, McCarthy is facing a steep uphill battle, especially considering his relative lack of both campaign funding and experience in running for political office.
By contrast, Emanuel has been involved with the upper echelons of Democratic Party politics for almost three decades. He has served at every level of government, including his two stints at the White House advising Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, his 2003-2009 tenure as a U.S. House representative from Illinois, and his current post as mayor of Chicago, which began in 2011.
Add all of that to the fact that Emanuel was a highly successful fundraiser for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and still has a penchant for raising vast sums of cash (even from Republican donors), his path to electoral victory seems pretty clear. In order to beat Emanuel’s Chicago machine, McCarthy is going to have to come up with some powerful financial backers, and sooner rather than later.
Moreover, and perhaps just as importantly, McCarthy has to convince voters that they should blame Emanuel, and not him, for a scandal that dominated headlines just a few short years ago.
That scandal was the Emanuel administration and the CPD’s alleged cover-up of the 2014 police killing of Laquan McDonald. A New Yorker profile of Emanuel written at the height of the public backlash against him for the incident nicely sums up how Chicagoans (and Democrats in particular) perceived the significance of the event:
Last month, a Cook County judge ordered the release of a shocking dashcam video of a black seventeen-year-old named Laquan McDonald being shot sixteen times by a policeman while he was walking away. Five days later, the officer was charged with murder. The charge came after four hundred days of public inaction, and only hours before the video’s release. Of almost four hundred police shootings of civilians investigated by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority since 2007, only one was found to be unjustified.
So the suspicion was overwhelming that the officer would not have faced discipline at all had officials not feared a riot—especially after it was learned that McDonald’s family had been paid five million dollars from city coffers without ever having filed a lawsuit. Mayor Emanuel claims that he never saw the video. Given that he surely would not have been reëlected [sic] had any of this come out before the balloting, a recent poll showed that only seventeen per cent of Chicagoans believe him. And a majority of Chicagoans now think he should resign.
In fact, according to the Chicago Tribune’s timeline of the McDonald case, Chicago officials spent more than a year trying to keep the dashcam video showing the fatal shooting from being released, an effort that helped Emanuel cruise to victory in Chicago’s 2015 mayoral election. To say the least, this revelation did not help Emanuel's image. On December 1st, 2015, little more than a week after a judge ordered the video to be released, Emanuel fired Superintendent McCarthy to try to stem public outrage, but protests demanding the mayor’s resignation continued into March 2016 before finally diminishing.
Even though Emanuel was able to weather the political crisis at the time, McCarthy’s bid for mayor threatens to undo the political peace in Chicago, and both men will likely be forced to explain their roles in the scandal and argue about who was really to blame for both the shooting and its alleged cover-up.