Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over a City Council meeting in 2013. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Emanuel super PAC makes first move to elect friendlier aldermen
The $1.35 million-and-counting superPAC created to re-elect Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his aldermanic allies is taking its first concrete step to ensure that Emanuel has even less City Council resistance if he’s re-elected to a second term.
“Chicago Forward” is sending out a questionnaire to 53 aldermanic candidates who have formed campaign fundraising committees and filed so-called D-1 forms with the State Board of Elections.
The six questions — all requiring “yes” or “no” answers by Sept. 2 — cut to the heart of Emanuel’s agenda to solve the city’s $20 billion pension crisis, reshape Chicago Public Schools, raise the minimum wage and rebuild Chicago’s aging infrastructure.
Although a 56 percent increase in the monthly surcharge tacked on to telephone bills that takes effect Monday staved off a pre-election property tax hike, a foreboding question No. 1 sets the stage for the difficult decisions that lie ahead.
It asks candidates if they would be willing to support “tough but necessary steps, such as increases in property taxes or additional efficiencies throughout city government” to further reduce the city’s structural deficit and “preserve critical services.”
The second and third questions cut to the chase of education issues that could dominate the mayoral campaign, particularly if Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis decides to challenge Emanuel.
The first asks aldermanic candidates whether they are prepared to support “high-quality school choices for families that include neighborhood, charter, IB, STEM, magnet and selective enrollment schools.”
The second asks whether they favor an elected school board, even though some “believe this would further politicize our city’s public education system.” The question makes no mention of the fact that Lewis and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), another possible mayoral challenger, are champions of an elected school board.
The three remaining questions ask candidates whether they support: Emanuel’s plan to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2018; tougher laws to help “prevent illegal guns from entering our city and hold those accountable who sell these guns”; and the mayor’s plan to create jobs and rebuild Chicago’s aging infrastructure with tools that include tax-increment-financing (TIF), tax credits and other incentives.”
Lewis and Fioretti want to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Becky Carroll, the longtime mayoral ally now serving as chairman and CEO of “Chicago Forward,” said there’s a reason why incumbent aldermen are not being asked to complete the questionnaire. Their voting records and public statements have already revealed their opinions on those key issues.
Carroll said the candidate questionnaires and public records of incumbents will be used to determine where and how “Chicago Forward” decides to spend its millions.
The super PAC has so far reported $1.35 million in contributions from a handful of well-heeled business titans and their wives. But Carroll noted that “another significant filing” will be made on Sept. 30, when the next quarterly report is due.
“We’re prepared to invest significant resources in very strategic and targeted ways to advocate for issues we believe will keep moving our city forward,” Carroll said.
“This questionnaire will allow us to better understand where aldermanic candidates stand and help us to both plan our strategies well in advance of the election and be more nimble as races tighten up. We want to be well ahead of the curve so as dynamics change ward by ward, we can be more flexible in directing our resources. That’s why we’re starting so early.”
Pressed on how much money “Chicago Forward” is prepared to pour into City Council races, Carroll said, “We will raise what we need to raise to effectively and rigorously advocate for issues and candidates embracing those issues. We’re prepared to raise millions for that effort — and we already have.”
Fioretti has denounced “Chicago Forward” as a thinly veiled effort to stifle dissent by “taking out” eight aldermen in the City Council’s Progressive Caucus who have dared to stand up to Emanuel.
The Progressive Caucus has been Emanuel’s most persistent critic. It includes Fioretti and seven colleagues: Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).
Carroll said she’s prepared to do whatever is necessary to “bring to light the record of those who are interested in moving the city backwards.”
She added, “There will be races where we’ll engage voters to educate them around the records of both sitting alderman as well as challengers. We may or may not engage in every ward, and the level of engagement will vary. But we intend to be very present and engaged, both in aldermanic and citywide races. Candidates and incumbents should be prepared to defend or explain their positions and records in order for voters to make decisions.”
“Chicago Forward” was created in a move viewed as a shot across the bow at Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Raising eyebrows was the PAC’s decision to line up a heavyweight team of fundraisers, political consultants and direct mail specialists.
That had some political observers convinced “Chicago Forward” was formed to run negative attack ads on Preckwinkle — or any other serious challenger — so Emanuel can remain above the fray.
Last month, Preckwinkle ruled out a race for mayor. That leaves Lewis and Fioretti as the highest-profile challengers even thinking about challenging Emanuel.
A prolific fundraiser, Emanuel continues to raise money at a frenzied pace in hopes of scaring off potential challengers who view him as vulnerable because of his 29 percent approval rating and single-digit support among African-American voters, according to a Sun-Times poll.
The mayor has $8.3 million-and-counting in his primary political fund.
Emanuel is bound by law to follow the state’s fundraising limits of $5,300 from individuals, $10,500 from corporations, labor organizations or associations, and $52,600 from candidate political action committees.
“Chicago Forward,” by contrast, can raise unlimited funds but is barred by law from coordinating with the Emanuel campaign.