This post has been updated with news Gov. Bruce Rauner (R-Illn.) said he would sign a bill paving the way for a recall of Emanuel. We still maintain a recall is unlikely -- for now.
Time, it seems, hasn't eased Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's political troubles. But politics is on Emanuel's side as the beleaguered Democrat fights to keep his job.
Emanuel is cutting his vacation in Cuba short to deal with two fatal police shootings in Chicago over the weekend, more troubling news on top of a federal investigation into the 2014 police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to murder charges in the shooting.
Emanuel has few good options to restore Chicagoans' faith in his government. But those who want him out of office also don't have many avenues to make it happen.
A defiant Emanuel said he has no intention of heeding protesters' call to resign, so critics are focusing their efforts on trying to force him out, hoping that the mayor's rock-bottom 18 percent approval rating will translate into civic action to oust him. There's certainly a lot of anger right now directed at the mayor: The Chicago Tribune reports that an Emanuel aide was punched and kicked at a recent vigil for victims shot by police.
The problem with that strategy is that there's no mechanism in Chicago or Illinois election law to recall a local official. After Rod Blagojevich (D) was arrested on corruption charges, impeached and removed as governor of Illinois, the General Assembly approved a recall method for governors. But the state constitution says nothing about recalling a mayor, says Robert Reed, the director of programming at the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan Illinois watchdog group.
"There's nothing right now that you can just point to and say, 'Haha, there's the recall movement, and this is how we do it legally,'" Reed said in an interview with The Fix.
The closest example Reed could find was a 2010 recall for a trustee to a city council in a Chicago suburb, possible only after the city changed its laws to allow for the trustee to be removed. That's not likely to happen in Chicago. Even if the Chicago City Council managed to pass a bill creating a recall effort, Emanuel almost certainly wouldn't sign off on it.
So the hopes of those who want to force Emanuel out of office are pinned at the state level, where setting up a recall effort is theoretically possible but for now politically unfeasible.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Democrat from Chicago, set a recall effort in motion the day Emanuel apologized for the handling of the McDonald shooting. Ford's bill would create a procedure for recalling mayors by petition. The recall effort would have to get signatures from 15 percent of the total votes cast in a mayoral election, or in Emanuel's case, about 12,500 votes. There would have to be at least 50 signatures from all 50 wards in Chicago. And, then, at least two city aldermen would have to sign it.
Petitions of that magnitude require a lot of legwork, political organizing and money, plus they're almost always challenged in the courts. Liberal activists circulated a petition recently that they said had 250,000 signatures calling for the recall of Emanuel and the Cook County state's attorney, Anita Alvarez. But they said a small percentage of those were from Chicago.
And the petition might be the easy part in the recall effort. Emanuel may be unpopular with protesters in the streets and in polls, but CNN's Manu Raju reports that Rahm still has the backing of powerful Democrats in the state, who seem to be willing to stand between Emanuel and a recall effort — for now.
A spokesman for powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) told Raju that he "doesn't have a position" on the recall bill. And the president of the state Senate, John Cullerton (D), opposes the bill; his spokeswoman told Raju taht it "establishes a dangerous path."
What's more, the voices of powerful black political leaders and members of Illinois's congressional delegation are missing from the recall effort. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) stayed out of the fray until Jan. 5, when he told reporters he is 'very disappointed' in how his longtime friend and business partner has handled the fall out in Chicago and that he would sign a bill allowing for a recall -- if it ever got through the statehouse.
Perhaps leaders are giving Emanuel a chance to fix the problem himself. Emanuel, who fired the city's police chief and ordered an independent review of the city's police department, is regularly meeting with black city leaders in an effort to repair badly damaged race relations in the city. The Rev. Marshall E. Hatch, who met with Emanuel, told the New York Times that it seems as if the mayor is "scrambling" to make amends.
The Democratic establishment's support doesn't appear unconditional, though. With the exception of the state Senate president, city and state officials aren't outright dismissing a recall effort. Rather, they seem to be saying that it's not the right path to take at this moment.
Reed, with the Better Government Association, said politicians are also hesitant to establish recall efforts that might one day be used against them or their colleagues. "Politicians are for recall in the broadest sense," Reed said, "But when you get down into the nitty-gritty of who gets recalled and how it works, that's where it gets super complicated."
Still, these are unprecedented times, even for a city and state used to scandal. There's a sense in Chicago that all it might take is one more misstep by Emanuel, who has taken quite a few recently, for the powers-that-be to turn on him and allow a robust recall effort to move forward.
Which could explain why Emanuel suddenly left sunny Cuba for chilly Chicago. Nothing less than his career is on the line, and to save it, he has a lot to prove to a lot of people.