Chicago Mayor Race Showcases Growing Hispanic Power

Mary Wisniewski, Reuters, February 18, 2011

Whether former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel wins the Chicago mayoral election on Tuesday or has to go to a run-off may hinge on the city’s growing Hispanic vote.

To become mayor of the nation’s third largest city and avoid an April run-off, Emanuel needs to win more than 50 percent of the vote next week, and was already at 49 percent in the latest Chicago Tribune/WGN poll. Emanuel’s closest competitor, former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, was at 19 percent in the poll, published February 10.

But Chico had a small advantage among Hispanics–at 38 percent to Emanuel’s 34 percent, with Chico’s Hispanic numbers up 12 percent from the previous Tribune poll. Chico is of Mexican and Greek-Lithuanian descent. Another contender, Puerto Rico-born city clerk Miguel del Valle, was at 8 percent of all voters and 18 percent of Latinos.

“The Hispanic candidates are attracting Hispanic voters–Rahm is doing less well there than in the white or black communities,” said Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman.

As elsewhere in the country, Hispanics are a growing force in Chicago, representing almost a third of the city’s population although only about 15 percent of voters, Simpson said.

Emanuel is viewed negatively by some Latinos because they believe he put immigration reform on the backburner while he was with President Barack Obama’s chief aide, Simpson said.

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Torres said many Hispanics remember Emanuel encouraging Democratic candidates in 2006 to show toughness on immigration, and that he called immigration the “third rail” of American politics.

“Emanuel more than anyone else is responsible for derailing immigration reform in this country,” said del Valle. He noted that this it not just an Hispanic issue, but one for the city’s large Polish and Asian communities.

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