Rahm Emanuel's Rainbow Coalition
Sometimes, news flashes by so quickly that we don't recognize real history.
Rahm Emanuel was elected mayor of Chicago Tuesday. Any name that isn't Daley in that office ranks as history, though with Bill Daley becoming White House chief of staff just as his brother, Richard M. Daley, leaves City Hall, the Daley name will stay at least as prominent in the news as Charlie Sheen's.
Rahm Emanuel, of course, was the White House chief of staff who preceded Bill Daley. He is also a former Democratic operative and Illinois congressman who is famed and more than a little feared for both his temper and wit. He won 40 of Chicago's 50 wards.
But as the dust and clutter of a tough campaign settles, the most remarkable feature of this election may be that the vote did not break down along ethnic lines.
The U.S. Census puts the white population of Chicago at about 40 percent, African-Americans at 33 percent, and Hispanics of varying races and national origins at 27 percent and growing.
Mr. Emanuel won about 54 percent of the vote. Gery Chico, a former Chicago school board chief, and who has Mexican heritage, won about 25 percent. Carol Mosley Braun, who was the first black woman in the U.S. Senate and was endorsed for mayor by a coalition of African-American leaders, won just 9 percent, as did Miguel del Valle, the City Clerk, who was born in Puerto Rico.
Clearly, a lot of African-Americans and Hispanics voted for Rahm Emanuel. And if you take a look at the results from north side wards, where many Jewish voters live, a good number of Jews voted for Gery Chico, even though Mr. Emanuel will be Chicago's first Jewish mayor, and that's also a bit of history. When I was growing up in Chicago, there were still apartment buildings—they were called "restricted"—that kept out Jews.
I spoke to an accomplished Chicago war pol this week who found all of this amazing. "We've usually kept score ethnically here," he said. "We'd say things like, 'The Poles will vote this way, the Mexicans will vote that way, Lithuanians won't vote for a black, blacks won't vote for a Jew, and Puerto Ricans won't vote for a Cuban. But now, everyone's up for grabs. You can't label anyone."
Rahm Emanuel had a few incomparable advantages, including an enormous campaign fund, fattened by celebrity admirers, and his association with President Obama, whose own election two years ago might help us see what happened in his hometown this week.
Chicago still suffers from stark residential segregation that is apparent in every crime and unemployment report. Race still counts. It just doesn't win as many votes as it used to. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.