It worked for Bruce Rauner.
Besides, the commissioner isn't really running on a platform of what he'd do. Doing stuff is Rahm Emanuel's speciality, and look where it got him. If Emanuel hadn't done so much — closed schools, cut deals — he might have spent more time sitting at community meetings, being screamed at, and maybe he wouldn't be facing such a serious challenge now.
Rather, Garcia is running on who he is: an earnest, neighborhood guy who has the benefit of not being rich. To fear he'd botch running the city underestimates the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done ingenuity of the regular folk of this great country of ours. He'd do fine. At least he'd do his best.
Not that Emanuel isn't also doing his best, within his limits as a human being, assuming he is one. A consigliere to two presidents, pin-balling around the halls of power, Emanuel is not a get-your-hands-dirty type of mayor. No pie-eating contests for him. Though he's had his moments among the herd.
It was four years ago, during Ed Burke's hare-brained scheme to get Emanuel's candidacy spiked because he didn't actually live here, that the mayor-to-be spent a day in a windowless room listening to regular Chicago Joes' crazy conspiracy theories. Emanuel took it well, never losing his famous temper, and you could feel his prospects rise afterward.
Too bad he didn't absorb the important lesson — you lead people, you have to sometimes set yourself among them, letting them ramble on, wasting your time, time that you could be using to raise more millions. Riding the L occasionally just isn't the same.
From a newspaperman standpoint, Garcia winning would be more fun. We'd have a First Hispanic Mayor cup to put in the trophy room next to our First Woman Mayor and First Black Mayor. Not an actual tangible accomplishment, of course — not cash money we can put toward Chicago's unpayable pension burden — but there is real value in such a milestone. The axis of power would indeed shift. Harold Washington certainly got public works going in neighborhoods that Jane Byrne had never heard of — when people speak of his main accomplishment in office, they tend to mention sidewalks — though Harold also spiked Jane's elitist dream of a 1992 World's Fair (there was a 1992 World's Fair; any idea where? Any at all? Seville, Spain).
But wishing is not enough, as Garcia will discover. Facts butt in. For every African-American voter who supports Garcia for not being Emanuel, for instance, there might be two who don't want Hispanics "cutting in line" and receiving the benefits they still somehow expect. To me, the only question in this election is: Which candidate has the best chance of avoiding the pension time bomb about to blow the city up? Garcia or Emanuel? Which works better with figures?
Emanuel has trouble with people, true, but Garcia has trouble with numbers. Take his castigating Emanuel for not fulfilling his 2011 promise to hire 1,000 police officers. Riveting campaign theater. The mayor reneged, Garcia shouts, but Chuy will do it! While offering no hint of how to pay for these officers, as if the sticking point were not the cost, but the concept. ("More police officers! Ah. Of course. Great idea. Why didn't we think of that? Thanks commissioner!") To be honest, I could get behind Garcia wholeheartedly, the way I yearned for Mayor Carol Moseley-Braun in 2011, if he promised, along with the thousand cops, to provide a pony for every child in Chicago. Kids love ponies, and taking care of a pony encourages responsibility. Ten thousand ponies cost far less than a thousand cops (the kids can share). Besides, campaigns are for dreaming big, aren't they? We can sweat the details after he's elected.