Almost every radio broadcast I hear from Chicago about the mayoral election comes down to the point that challenger Jesús (Chuy) Garcia has horrible math skills when it comes to the city budget, or is living in fantasy land.
Rahm Emanuel may drive some parts of the Democratic Party crazy but at least there is economic sense to his policy moves. It takes a pragmatic hand to rule a city. The Economist seems to agree. I have said for weeks this race was one to watch, but at the end of the day it would be a victory for the incumbent, and I still strongly hold to that view.
The trouble with nice Mr García’s pledges is that Chicago is beyond broke. On February 27th Moody’s, a credit-rating agency, downgraded the city’s credit-worthiness to two notches above junk, mostly because Chicago is carrying more than $20 billion in unfunded liabilities for four of its pension funds, and already has a deficit of around $300m in its operating budget. Moreover, a payment of $550m for the police and firemen’s pension fund is due at the end of this year, and the public schools are $1.1 billion in the red.
Mark Kirk, a Republican senator from Illinois, has warned that Chicago could follow Detroit into bankruptcy if Mr García wins. García fans dispute this, pointing out that he was the floor leader for Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County board, who managed to balance the county budget last year for the first time in years. Some on the left accuse Mr Kirk of racism for even suggesting that creditors might not trust Mr García.
Mr García hopes to appeal to Latinos and African-Americans, who are nearly two-thirds of Chicago’s voters. But many blacks think Hispanics and other immigrants are taking their jobs, while many Hispanics hold prejudices about blacks living on welfare. In the first round Mr Emanuel received almost 43% of the vote in wards with a black majority; Mr García got 25%. The latest polls strongly favour Mr Emanuel, but undecided voters could still tip the scales. Whoever wins will swiftly need to placate the bond market.