DON GONYEA, HOST:
One of the nation's most savvy politicians is fighting for survival. That fight reveals a divide in the Democratic Party that we're going to explore. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, faces an unprecedented runoff election next month. His challenger, a Cook County commissioner, contends that Emanuel favors the rich and powerful over the working class. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper starts us off with this report.
CHUY GARCIA: Hi. How are you? And you are?
GARCIA: Pleased to meet you, Tiffany. I'm Chuy Garcia. Pleased to meet you.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Jesus Chuy Garcia is walking through the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's south side with a natural ease, shaking hands with residents and talking to them about their jobs, families and schools. And for many residents of this mostly African-American community, the attention is welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nice to see you in the neighborhood.
GARCIA: Thank you. We'll be back. I'm a neighborhood guy.
SCHAPER: And that is the key distinction Garcia is trying to make in his campaign to unseat first-term mayor Rahm Emanuel - that he is of the neighborhoods and for the neighborhoods while Emanuel's policies benefit the wealthy downtown.
GARCIA: Chicago neighborhoods are hurting. They haven't seen much recovery since the recession, and that will be the paradigm shift under my administration.
SCHAPER: Garcia is walking door-to-door on this block in particular because it's home to 1 of the 50 schools Emanuel closed up two years ago. Thirty-eight-year-old Carrissa Johnson who works in the Social Security Administration says her son now walks a longer more dangerous route to school. And she's also upset about the lack of investment in her neighborhood under Emanuel.
CARRISSA JOHNSON: I don't think that he really cares about the intercommunity. I think more - everything goes more so up north than comes here.
SCHAPER: Johnson says she really doesn't know much about Chuy Garcia, but adds things can't get much worse, so she'll probably vote for him. Helping lead Garcia around is Bishop James Dukes, pastor of nearby Liberation Christian Center, who says he endorsed and worked for Emanuel's campaign four years ago.
JAMES DUKES: It's a total disconnect. At no point does the administration seek the advice and help of those are in the community until vote time - until they need us.
SCHAPER: The message that Mayor Emanuel may not be too inclusive and that he's abrasive appears to be getting through.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: They say your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. I'm living proof of that. I can rub people the wrong way or talk when I should listen. I own that.
SCHAPER: This is the first ad Emanuel started airing after failing to win more than 50 percent in February's election, forcing him into this runoff. Emanuel tells voters he's driven to make a difference, which requires tough, even unpopular choices. Emanuel has clashed with many of the city's unions - most notably, Chicago's teachers who enlisted Garcia to challenge Rahm. SEIU endorsed Garcia, too. And many in labor worry about Emanuel's close relationship with Illinois's Republican governor Bruce Rauner who often criticizes unions.
EMANUEL: You got it?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Got it.
EMANUEL: All right, guys.
SCHAPER: So Emanuel met this week with several African-American labor leaders to try to allay their concerns.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We cannot let Illinois become a right-to-work state.
EMANUEL: I'm well aware.
EMANUEL: I think right-to-work is a - takes the rug from underneath the middle class.
SCHAPER: Will Irving is with Laborers Local 1001.
WILL IRVING: We are looking for opportunities for people of color that look like us and a pathway to careers. And I think we've accomplished a stepping stone out of this meeting.
SCHAPER: And never the political equivalent of a shrinking violet, at a debate Monday night, Emanuel hammered Garcia for failing to detail how he'd fix city finances.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
EMANUEL: Let me be clear here. There's a real difference. Chuy, you laid out a commission, not a plan.
SCHAPER: But Garcia isn't backing down.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GARCIA: This mayor has provided corporate welfare to his cronies, millionaires and billionaires in Illinois. We're in a financial freefall.
SCHAPER: With less than three weeks to go until the April 7 runoff, Emanuel has a sizable lead in the latest polls, but Garcia's supporters are motivated and mobilizing to turn the race around. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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