Why Chicago mayoral race matters to suburbs

  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, share a light moment at a debate Tuesday in Chicago.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, share a light moment at a debate Tuesday in Chicago. Associated Press

  • Rahm Emanuel

    Rahm Emanuel

  • Jesus "Chuy" Garcia

    Jesus "Chuy" Garcia

 
 
Updated 4/3/2015 4:57 AM

People in the suburbs don't have a vote next Tuesday in the race between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, but suburban political leaders say the outcome is important here, too.

Thousands of suburban residents make the commute to Chicago for work every day, making transportation and business a common thread between the big city and its suburbs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The next Chicago mayor could play a role in issues ranging from slot machines at Arlington Park to how much income tax money suburbs get next year.

Local leaders sometimes compete with their Chicago counterpart and other times join forces. Libertyville lost its Motorola Mobility hub to Chicago after a July 2012 announcement that the company would move to the Merchandise Mart, one of a number of suburban businesses making the move to Chicago.

Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler says the Northern suburbs have to worry not just about Wisconsin taking their business but Chicago as well.

But there are also benefits to being close to Illinois' biggest city, Weppler said.

"Having an ally that has more clout than any one city is a good thing," he said.

For instance, Chicago would be the biggest loser if Gov. Bruce Rauner were to cut the money local governments get from the state. So when Chicago advocates for that money, the suburbs benefit, too.

Emanuel has shown support for a Chicago casino, which would pose major new competition for casinos in Elgin, Aurora and Des Plaines.

On the other hand, slots at Arlington International Racecourse and a new casino in Lake County are unlikely to be approved unless the legislation also includes a Chicago casino.

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Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, former Chicago councilman and former state senator, told the Chicago Sun-Times he would consider a casino proposal but is concerned about the effect of gambling on low-income residents.

Both candidates have said they oppose a tax on suburban commuters who work in Chicago.

Several suburban mayors sit on the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, started by Chicago's former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1997.

Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod says Emanuel has done a good job of working with the other mayors in the group. The caucus allows leaders to have strength in numbers, something McLeod says is important when it comes to making sure towns get their share of state money.

"We work together on issues of common interest, and by working together we can help resolve those important issues," McLeod said.

In a candidate questionnaire, Garcia promised to "work collaboratively" with the suburbs on transportation and airport funding, among other issues.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He has not reached out to the caucus, McLeod said.

Chicago's mayor carries the responsibility of keeping the city in good financial standing, state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, pointed out. That carries over to surrounding municipalities as well, he said.

Emanuel and Garcia have locked horns over the city's finances and their plans for moving forward.

"When we look at what happened in other big cities in the U.S. like Detroit when they filed for bankruptcy and everything that they went through as a state, we have a lot of similarities in Illinois, and Chicago is also on the verge of bankruptcy," Duffy said.

Some support for Emanuel has emerged among suburban leaders. Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens gave $5,000 to Emanuel's campaign fund in February.

"It's important to have a good relationship when O'Hare and McCormick Place are airport- and convention-focused," Stephens said. "The related businesses are important not only for Chicago and Rosemont, but for the whole state."

Garcia's campaign didn't respond to a request for his suburban supporters.

State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, served in the Senate with Garcia and says he has nothing against him. But he says Emanuel is "on the right step forward" in getting Chicago on track.

"We don't live in cities any more, we live in regions. And if you have a strong mayor in the city of Chicago it only helps the region around," Link said. "Your rail systems, your highway systems are all connected through the region, so it's extremely important to us to have a strong mayor."

While Duffy said Emanuel possesses negative qualities, including his "sneaky" red-light cameras push, he thinks Emanuel has more experience than Garcia.

"He does have some solid financial experience and experience at solving problems," Duffy said. "And Chuy, either he's not expressing himself clearly or he is not relaying the same type of experience that he has."

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