Voters support Rahm for now
04/18/2012 10:00 PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has support of at least 57 percent of residents as of the latest poll by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Most citizens are also satisfied with city services, including the police department despite the rise in the murder rate. They are, unsurprisingly, dissatisfied with the public schools and support the proposed longer school day as a possible remedy.
Students in the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago conducted a public opinion poll from March 15 to 18 and obtained responses from 143 Chicago residents aged 18 or older. The random sample lacked sufficient Latino responses and had few Republicans, but the sample was a good reflection of the views of African-Americans and whites throughout the city.
Mayor Emanuel’s approval rating was nearly as good as Richard M. Daley during his most popular years. For instance, Daley had 60 percent approval in 1991, according to earlier UIC surveys. While Emanuel’s rating is lower than President Barack Obama’s 70 percent, it is much higher than Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s 45 percent in a current survey.
Mayor Emanuel has voter support because of his active role as CEO of the city as a “can do” mayor who is getting things done. Each day brings a new press conference with new initiatives: proposed longer school days, new infrastructure programs, cuts in the city budget to prevent higher property taxes and new faces in the city hall bureaucracy. He has masterfully controlled the media, perhaps learning from his time at the White House as President Obama’s chief of staff.
Part of the mayor’s popularity is that 62 percent of Chicagoans are generally pleased with city services and 72 percent approve of the job the police are doing. However, African-Americans are less satisfied than whites, with only 49 percent satisfied with services and 63 percent approving of the police. If the murder rate continues to spike along with growing poverty in the South and West Side communities, the approval gap between races is likely to grow.
In his first year in office, the mayor hasn’t yet made major controversial decisions like the sale of the parking meters and increased parking fees that Mayor Richard M. Daley did at the last of his term. Emanuel’s most unpopular decision to cut back on library hours and services, he changed after major blowback from aldermen and citizens. Closing some police stations and health clinics while unpopular with some folks, haven’t become citywide issues. The coming NATO meeting may blow up like the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but the mayor has been willing to compromise with protestors in the preparations, permits and protest routes. Hopefully clashes between police and protestors will not echo 1968.
About 73 percent of Chicagoans are dissatisfied with the quality of schools but the mayor has been leading the charge to make changes. And nearly 75 percent have expressed support for the longer school day that Emanuel has championed. So Emanuel is seen as trying to fix the schools rather than as part of the problem.
While the Emanuel administration has provided more transparency and website information than the Daley administration, it is still an autocratic operation. Ordinary citizens don’t get consulted as to what should be done, they get told what has been done for them. In this, he has followed the strong mayor tradition of the Daleys. Meanwhile, the city council has remained a rubber stamp although aldermen have been able to get the mayor to accept some of their suggestions and amendments on the city budget, the NATO summit rules, and the proposed new Infrastructure Trust.
Democracy doesn’t seem to be about to break out in Chicago. The problem with autocratic rule is that the “boss” makes big mistakes when there isn’t full debate over government decisions. If his policies just get rammed through, when something goes wrong, it is usually spectacular.
For now, Rahm is popular. But his defining moments and conflicts as mayor still lie ahead.