There’s been a steady drumbeat of bad news for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel since November, all tied to the bad relationship between the police and the community. The latest set of stories comes only a few months after Emanuel narrowly won reelection, in a runoff he had desperately tried to avoid. Protestors are marching in the streets, and an increasing number of Chicago groups are calling for Emanuel to resign. For the national media, it’s become a political deathwatch (in many cases cheered on by liberal journalists): Can Rahm, the famed Washington street brawler, hold on to his job?
The precedents offered by other mayors who have recently faced policing scandals are mixed. Ferguson Mayor James Knowles remains in office. Baltimore’s Stephanie Rawlings-Blake opted not to run for reelection, under pressure. New York’s Bill de Blasio is battling low approval ratings. In the past, major protests have ended mayors’ tenures. Los Angeles’ Tom Bradley retired after the riots there. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums retired after riots followed the acquittal of an officer who killed Oscar Grant; his successor, Jean Quan, was defeated in her reelection effort after unrest involving Occupy Oakland.
One of the few big-city mayors to survive a major episode of civil unrest is Charlie Luken of Cincinnati. The Democrat entered office (for a second stint) in 1999. In April 2001, police shot and killed 19-year-old black man Timothy Thomas, setting off several days of rioting. The riots cost millions and devastated the city’s Over-the-Rhine district. Several months later, however, Luken was reelected. He oversaw a process of police reform that is now hailed a model for other cities. Luken declined to run for reelection in 2004, and now works for a law firm in the Queen City.