Commentary: Windy City daydream
CHICAGO -- In this city's upcoming mayoral contest, there are those candidates who have no chance -- and at least one who has no shame.
Mr. Shameless is Rahm Emanuel, who really must think that Latinos are fools, that they have short memories and that they don't hold a grudge. He is 0 for 3.
In the days leading up to the Feb. 22 election, Emanuel, hoping to avoid a runoff, has been desperately trying to remake himself as an advocate for Latinos. The opposite is closer to the truth.
He has proposed a scholarship program to help immigrant students go to college that he cynically calls the "Chicago Dream Act." The real Dream Act rejected last year by the U.S. Senate would have legalized the undocumented, not just hand out scholarships. As Emanuel knows full well, cities lack the authority to change legal status.
This shell game doesn't fool Chicago resident Juan Andrade, who as president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, has trained thousands of Hispanic students over the last three decades.
"The so-called Dream Act is just an idea to create confusion, raise false hopes and expectations, and to hopefully attract some Latino votes," he told me. "It's a deceptive campaign pledge that is typical Emanuel -- one that he can feel free to make without any intention of keeping it, if elected."
So why isn't Emanuel -- who is leading in the polls overall -- not polling better with Latinos?
The generous interpretation, heard often from the pro-Emanuel media, is that there are also two Latino candidates in this race who are drawing most of the support: City Clerk Miguel del Valle, who was born in Puerto Rico, and former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, who has a Mexican-American father and a Greek-Lithuanian mother.
But that's not the only reason. In the last 20 years, Emanuel has had three prominent jobs in politics: senior adviser to President Clinton, member of Congress, and Obama chief of staff. And in all three posts, Emanuel has shown that he is not the least bit interested in Latinos or what they want from Democrats.
Emanuel was at Clinton's side when the 42nd president rolled back welfare benefits for legal immigrants, fortified the California-Mexico border with Operation Gatekeeper, and signed enforcement legislation that made it easier to deport illegal immigrants.
As part of the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, Emanuel kept immigration reform off the agenda because he feared the debate would hurt Democrats, coerced Democratic colleagues to vote for a bill that criminalized the undocumented, and declared immigration the "third rail of politics."
And finally, while serving as Obama's chief of staff, Emanuel helped the administration put comprehensive immigration reform on the back burner, fortify the border again, and carry out a record number of deportations.
"Emanuel is the master of the art of throwing Latinos under the bus," Andrade said.
Pilar Marrero, senior reporter for La Opinion, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, also finds it laughable that Emanuel would portray himself as a champion for immigrants. During a recent appearance on Univision's "Al Punto Con Jorge Ramos," Marrero literally burst out laughing when the host mentioned Emanuel's Chicago Dream Act. When Ramos asked why she was laughing, she explained that Emanuel has been a major obstacle to immigration reform and that "the whole world knows this."
Talk to immigration reform activists, and they'll tell you all about Emanuel. If Rahm was at the meeting, they say, nothing got done. The conversation was always about explaining why the administration couldn't do immigration reform and never about finding a brave and creative way to get it done.
Someone who attended many of those meetings is Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who represents a Chicago district. He has endorsed Chico. And, in a devastating Spanish-language ad, Gutierrez charges that while working in the Obama White House, Emanuel "turned his back" on immigration reformers.
It gets worse. Emanuel has been airing a Spanish-language ad of his own where he paints Chico as anti-immigrant, claiming that his opponent is against "amnesty" and in favor of Arizona's tough new immigration law.
Talk about nerve. This guy really will say or do anything. That includes accusing opponents of not supporting something he himself has never supported -- what the ad calls "amnesty."
If Rahm Emanuel thinks that Latinos in Chicago are going to forget everything that he has ever done -- and not done -- and vote for him for mayor, then he's the one who is dreaming.