THE BLOG

Rahm Emanuel's Court Case: Writing the Story

Jan 27, 2011 | Updated May 25, 2011

This is the rallying cry that has been echoed by Rahm Emmanuel's supporters in the streets, Scott Fairchild in my inbox, and numerous editorials across the city in the Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, and Huffington Post. The outpouring of public support for Emanuel is frankly astonishing, and it centers on the idea that the people of Chicago, not the courts, have the right to choose their next mayor.

The narrative Emanuel's camp is constructing, with not just a little help from the Sun-Times and the Tribune, is one of service and disenfranchisement. Rahm Emanuel is a true Chicago man whose only reason for leaving was to answer the call of his country, a noble action indeed. Now you, the people of Chicago, are being punished for his good deeds. You are being disenfranchised and denied the opportunity to pick the next mayor of Chicago.

This is a bold story to offer from a candidate who has handily out-fundraised his opponents with a large sum of out-of-state cash. According to the Sun-Times, about a quarter of his campaign contributors are non-local. This includes many people from his "$100,000 club": those who gave at least $100,000 before new campaign contribution limits kicked in this year. The list of people giving from outside Chicago includes Hollywood big shots like David Geffen, Steven Spielberg (who just gave $75,000), and Haim and Cheryl Saban.

If you believe that money is what wins elections, then it's hard to reconcile "Let Chicago Decide" with Emanuel's campaign so far. He has run by far the most non-local campaign and has given non-Chicagoans the opportunity to have a major impact on the next mayor of Chicago. This issue raised eyebrows in the media before the court's decision but was abandoned (along with pretty much any other issue in this mayoral race) in favor of a much sexier story.

And the story couldn't have come at a better time for Emanuel. Voices in the op-ed pages have moved him from the frontrunner to the heroic and oppressed warrior. Now he is just a man who wants to give the people their right to vote but is being blocked by those pesky courts. He gets to carry the sword of Democracy against America's favorite branch of government to scapegoat. This explains why one of the most pro-big business, largest money candidates was able to get 200 people to brave the bitter cold, hold signs, and chant slogans in an act that is usually reserved for underdogs.

But now Emanuel gets to be exactly that, the underdog, and everybody loves an underdog. No matter which way the Supreme Court rules, the Appellate Court's decision will be good for Emanuel's public image. If they rule against him, he will be a martyr for democracy put on the cross of judicial politics. If they rule in his favor, he will enter the election in February having fought through a fire of bureaucratic technicalities and a system that was against him only to emerge victorious. What's more Chicago than that?