Emanuel’s master plan: make suburbanites pay
by RUSS STEWART
There’s a saying that bad always gets worse, but not according to Rahm Emanuel. Chicagoans need not worry. His motto is: Bad always gets better.
The mayor has a master plan for solving the city’s ever-worsening fiscal straits, particularly the $27.5 billion unfunded pension hole. It’s OPM — Other People’s Money. "Tax the suburbanites, tax the visitors," Emanuel bellowed at an Oct. 16 fund-raiser for Alderman Marge Laurino (39th). "Make them pay more." In effect, it’s going to be Chicago for Chicagoans; everyone else will pay to work, drive, play, party and park in Chicago.
In his speech, Emanuel promised better schools, parks and libraries, lower crime, better services, more police, and budget economies, and he pledged that all streets will be pothole free. "We will be filling potholes and repaving streets year-round," the mayor said, adding that he expects to plant 7,500 trees in 2015.
Of course, for Emanuel’s expensive, visionary "Utopia on the Lake" to materialize, a society in which OPM solves all ills and Chicagoans live happily ever after, Emanuel must get himself re-elected in 2015, and even with Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis out of the race, that’s still an iffy proposition.
"Rahm is so hated," one Northwest Side political activist, who is a former city worker, said. That’s probably an overstatement, although among teachers, police officers, firefighters and government employees, 4 more years of Emanuel is only slightly less repugnant than contracting a disease. "He’s even more hated than Rich Daley," the activist adds. Yet Emanuel is adhering to the Daley recipe: Fudge the budget numbers, don’t raise property taxes, find some one-time, painless monetary source (like the parking meter deal), generate tons of campaign cash, and discourage credible opposition — by any method. "Kicking the can down the road" kept Daley in office for 22 years.
Emanuel has $8.7 million in his campaign account as of the Sept. 30 filings. His proposed $6.9 billion 2015 budget is a masterpiece of deception, pushing the state mandate to fully fund city pensions into 2016. He raised $250 million by hiking the cell phone tax, but the city is still $300 million short of the mandatory $550 million 2015 pension contribution. However, there is no property tax hike in the budget, and the opposition is desultory.
The anti-Emanuel field includes:
White Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd), who has $258,994 in his account but who has gained little traction. On Oct. 31 both Lewis and the union refused to endorse him, despite his pro-labor, anti-Emanuel record. The City Council’s 2011 remap gutted his black-majority South Side ward, inducing him to run for mayor. When he announced his candidacy in October after months of dawdling, he offered up such bromides as "Chicago needs change" and that he would "build a stronger Chicago."
Fioretti hardly set the world aflame. Civility and vagueness gets you nowhere in Chicago politics. He needs to get nasty and go negative on the mayor. He needs the public sector unions to give him $3 million to $4 million right now. The American Federation of Teachers promised Lewis $1 million, but the union is not supporting Fioretti. Without early money, Fioretti is irrelevant.
Mexico-born county Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who broke into politics as a Harold Washington acolyte, won election as alderman of the South Side 22nd Ward in a 1986 court-ordered special election which chipped away at the "Vrdolyak 29," was elected state senator in 1992, and won his Cook County board seat in 2010. Garcia will try to emerge as the "progressive" candidate. Garcia entered the race late, he has no citywide organization and no money, and his Hispanic base accounts for a relatively small percent of the electorate. Garcia is a South Side Mexican, which is a hard sell among North Side Puerto Ricans. He has been endorsed by the Lewis and the teachers union.
Garcia’s contacts in the black community, dating back to the 1980s, have long since vanished, and African Americans have shown a distinct resistance to voting for a Hispanic candidate. Gery Chico’s 2011 numbers are illustrative: He got 141,135 votes overall and 23,151 votes in the predominantly black wards. However, maybe all those pro-Obama white "progressives" will stampede to his candidacy.
In his announcement, Garcia drew blood when he said that Chicago, under Emanuel, "is not headed in the right direction." That was brutal. Don’t mess with Chuy.
Black former Board of Review commissioner Robert Shaw. His campaign, which has $1,000 on hand, can be summarized in three words: He ain’t Harold. He’s a loser and a retread. The obvious 2015 "Great Black Hope" was county board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has $838,437 in her campaign account. According to sources, she is spending close to $1 million on an effort to get out the vote in the predominantly black wards, in conjunction with Governor Pat Quinn’s campaign. Since nominating petitions for mayor do not have to be filed until Nov. 24, her operation provides her with a ready-made precinct army should she decide to run for mayor. Polls have shown her beating Emanuel handily, but Preckwinkle, age 67, has repeatedly forsworn any interest in being mayor.
Amara Enyia, a 31-year-old black lawyer with a Ph.D. in education, whose parents were Nigerian immigrants. Enyia speaks seven languages, and she was a public policy fellow in Daley’s administration. Her campaign has been below the radar. According to her Web site, she opposes "insider deals, privatization and school closings," wants a "restoration of public services," and is endorsed by Howard Dean’s leftist Democracy for America. She is the executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Her West Side base won’t aid her on the South Side, where two-thirds of black voters reside.
There are two other contenders, deemed to be "fringe" candidates: Doc Walls, an aging black community organizer who lost for mayor in 2007 (with 8.6 percent of the vote) and in 2011 (with 0.9 percent), and William Kelly, a self-proclaimed Republican who will run as the "conservative alternative."
The Feb. 24 primary is nonpartisan. Any candidate getting more than 50 percent of the vote is elected, with no April runoff between the top two finishers. The system has been in place since 1999. Daley won outright in 1999 (with 72.0 percent of the vote), in 2003 (with 79.0 percent) and in 2007 (with 71.6 percent). Emanuel won outright in 2011, when he got 55.3 percent of the vote.
The challengers’ "jungle primary" psychology is simple: Keep Emanuel under 50 percent on Feb. 24 and then unite all the "anti" voters in the runoff. The mayor’s strategy is Daleyesque: Dampen interest, keep turnout low, spread around money in the minority wards, and bombard voters with television ads mendaciously proclaiming what a great job he has done — and will continue to do — as mayor. Smother them with unfulfillable promises, and then start looking for a better job before 2019.
The outlook: Has Emanuel’s base appreciated, deteriorated or vegetated? He got 325,965 votes in 2011 against three black candidates and two Hispanic candidates. He spent $15 million, and party insiders cleared out the field for him. As mayor, he closed 50 schools and advocated pension changes. As befits someone who was a Clinton White House aide, a congressman, and Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel is arrogant, iron-fisted and intolerant of dissent. When he lavishly praised Laurino at her fund-raiser, it was because she has a 100 percent pro-Emanuel voting record in the City Council.
If Emanuel is forced into a runoff, money will be no object. He will depict his opponent as an advance agent of an epidemic, his campaign will have a payroll of thousands, and the mayor will win.
Here’s an update on noteworthy aldermanic races:
45th Ward: Follow the money. Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido lost in 2011 by 30 votes, largely because of $300,000 in negative mailers paid for by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. They’re behind incumbent John Arena, who is anti-Emanuel, and they will dump $500,000 into his 2015 race. Arena has $66,197 on hand. Michelle Baert, who calls herself the "45th Ward Mom," hopes Emanuel will allocate some of his spare cash to her. She has $39,987 o -hand. Garrido has only $2,695 on hand, and he has a debt of $70,740, consisting of loans.
Garrido is not able to spend $250,000 from his own pocket. If the race becomes a proxy war between Emanuel and the unions, with each spending $400,000-plus, Garrido is in danger of being marginalized and finishing third.
39th Ward: Robert Murphy is no wilting tulip. The professional photographer and outgoing president of the Forest Glen Community Club is taking on Laurino. "Fifty years is too long," Murphy said of the "Laurino Dynasty," which began when Tony Laurino became alderman in 1964. He’ll squawk a lot about airplane noise, potholes, rubber stamps and nepotism, and he might get 35 percent of the vote.
36th Ward: This new, 66 percent Hispanic ward has become a Puerto Rican turf war, pitting the Berrios/Suarez "Old Guard" against the "progressive reformers." The former are backing Omar Aquino, a 26-year-old former staffer for Toni Berrios and Tammy Duckworth. He has $36,402 on hand, but the Berrios/Suarez machine has about $1.5 million. The latter are backing Gil Villegas, a business consultant and a Desert Storm veteran, who is endorsed by Luis Gutierrez, Luis Arroyo, Iris Martinez and Nick Sposato. "I don’t need on-the-job training," Villegas, who has $51,728 on hand, said. A tough battle looms.
29th Ward: The issue in this historically black Austin-based ward is pawn shops, which now number five in the ward. Incumbent Deborah Graham is blamed, and a large field has formed, but 12 of the ward’s 56 precincts are in mostly white Galewood. A white candidate could make the runoff.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.