*Che “Rhymefest” Smith, the winner of a 2004 Grammy is running an unorthodox campaign for City Council in Chicago – and has a good chance of winning, according to the Associated Press.
In a field of five candidates, he’s picked up support from the powerful Chicago Teachers Union and several political experts say a victory Tuesday or making an April runoff vote are quite possible.
The presence in a council seat of Rhymefest — a broad battle rapper who once went toe-to-toe with, and many say easily defeated, Eminem — would certainly shake things up in a body seen in recent years as a compliant rubber stamp for retiring Mayor Richard Daley.
“He’s a homegrown advocate with a heart for his people,” said Stacy Davis-Gates, a spokeswoman for the teachers’ union “He’s a hip hop artist, his initial expression is to champion the oppressed and inspire transformation.”
But he’s far from alone in his vision of bringing change and opportunity to Chicago politics. A record number of people — nearly 250 — are seeking council positions and major changeover is expected. Experts predict up to 20 new aldermen on the 50-seat council and a likely power shift. That means mayoral candidates like former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would face an unpredictable and likely more independent City Council.
Rhymefest paints himself as an alternative to business as usual for the 20th Ward, which includes some of the poorest and highest-crime areas of Chicago. First-term Alderman Willie Cochran, who faces a groundswell of opposition, was elected to succeed former Alderman Arenda Troutman. She was sentenced to prison in 2009 after pleading guilty to taking payoffs and campaign contributions from developers in return for zoning changes.
The 33-year-old rapper — named Che after the 1950s Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara — has pledged to give up a portion of his aldermanic salary for loans to bring business to the area and says he’ll only serve two four-year terms. His campaign headquarters are inside a dingy car wash surrounded by vacant lots, and some of his fundraisers have been held at nightclubs where he performs.
Rhymefest has received praise from Princeton University scholar Cornel West and rapper Kanye West, with whom he shared a Grammy for co-writing “Jesus Walks.”