After years of his tiresome shtick—the bullying, the profanity, the glorified tough-guy act, and most of all the centrist corporatism—Rahm Emanuel was getting his due, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party was elated. It was late February, and the Chicago mayor had just been forced into a runoff to hold on to his seat, despite spending nearly $16 million and bringing in President Obama for a last-minute appearance in a bid to head off challengers.
"Rahm Emanuel and his corporate cronies have awoken a massive grassroots army across the city committed to ending his agenda of privatization, public school closings, and pension cuts," exulted Jim Dean, brother of Howard and head of the liberal group Democracy for America.
With the final ballot coming on Tuesday, that excitement has mellowed into glum resignation as Emanuel looks like a lock to win a second term. Poll after poll shows him with a sizable lead over Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, a Cook County commissioner.
Progressive Democrats have notched several impressive wins in recent years. Bill de Blasio won a surprising victory to become New York mayor. Elizabeth Warren has proven an effective advocate for progressive causes in the Senate. But there are signs of limitations, too. Zephyr Teachout couldn't reproduce de Blasio's magic in a race against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a centrist who particularly annoys progressives, and progressives haven't been able to recruit a potent alternative—whether Warren or someone else—to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential race.