These were Bob Fioretti’s people, this was his standing-room-only crowd. On Monday night at the University of Chicago, 2015 mayoral candidate Fioretti could finally come into his own, for in this room, he was finally far away from the people who sneered at his candidacy. Here, there were no big corporate shills living by the Lake who belonged to his incumbent opponent, men in suits who thought his ideals naïve. There weren’t the minorities in the other faraway Chicago, either, residents of neighborhoods that CTA trains don’t trundle through, who might find him naïve for their own reasons.

At the UofC, there were instead fresh-eyed students in sweaters who spoke breathlessly of campaigns past for Democratic candidates in their native California, who wondered how the hypothetical Mayor Fioretti would hold accountable the men and women who served in police blue for their racism.

There were older, whiter Hyde Parkers, residents who had indignantly propelled generations of independent, liberal aldermen into power—aldermen who opposed both Mayors Daley in the same lonely and principled way that those residents think Bob Fioretti has done since 2007. And there were also policy wonks who rattled off questions about participatory budgeting and who nodded along to the candidate’s conversion to targeted social media outreach, his online strategy predicated upon “Follow Fioretti on Fridays.”

And at the center of the room but not of attention Fioretti stood, the unlikely liberal lion being pushed out of office by redistricting, a man without a ward because he had shaped a political career out of telling this mayor “no,” forcefully and often. Because he had voted in accordance with Mayor Emanuel’s wishes only forty-five percent of the time in a rubberstamp Council, he was running for mayor himself, and these were the people who were now truly receptive to his ceaseless inveighing against the monster who ran their city.

On Monday night, Fioretti showed himself as their vessel for change, and the flickering hope he represented brought together a dissimilar crowd unified primarily by a conviction that four more years of this mayor meant only four more years of desperate, unnecessary inequality.

But he seemed no standard bearer, no leader of an organic movement. When speaking of his commitment to social justice, of his staunch liberal principles that were shaped by the streetwise common sense of his Roseland childhood, he invoked his experience as a full-time attorney, a tireless public advocate in Chicago’s courts for most of his adult life.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to compare Fioretti to those politicians—Karen Lewis, Luis Gutierrez—who possess a rare talent to ignite a crowd, and perhaps voters will soon come to realize that sterling voting records in City Council and awards from the Independent Voters of Illinois are preferable to the man they had come to despise.

But Fioretti ended the forum by declaring that his mayoralty would be about the collective: “It’s not me, it’s we. Everyone in this room is going to be mayor, and I shouldn’t be on that fifth floor of City Hall.”

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