JEFFERSON PARK — Two groups striving to influence the outcome of the 45th Ward aldermanic election have spent approximately $164,000 to target Ald. John Arena (45th), records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections show.
The Service Employee International Union Illinois Council PAC has spent $98,200 to send out 11 direct-mail fliers in recent weeks to tout Arena's record of "standing up" to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and tag two of his opponents as Republicans, records show.
"Ald. Arena has a great record on issues important to working families," said SEIU State Council Executive Director Gerald Morrison. "He is the leader of the progressive wing of the City Council, and we want to protect him."
But 45th Ward residents have also received seven fliers from the Democrats for Education Reform Independent Committee Illinois that paint Arena, a founding member of the Chicago City Council's Progressive Reform Caucus, as "not a true progressive" who has voted to put his "personal agenda in front of Chicago's children."
The education group, which has endorsed Emanuel for re-election and favors charter school expansion, has spent approximately $65,400 in an effort to stop Arena from being re-elected, records show.
In a statement, Arena's campaign called the education group's attacks "inaccurate political smears."
"Ald. Arena has been a champion for our strong neighborhood public schools in the 45th Ward," according to the statement. "He fought against school closings, helped add classrooms and playgrounds to elementary schools and supports a responsive, transparent elected school board."
The education group's fliers criticize Arena for voting against Emanuel's proposal to expand "school choice" in Chicago by opening more charter schools and for opposing Emanuel's push to extend the school day for Chicago Public Schools students.
But the group's mailers also slam Arena on a wide range of subjects, including a vote in 2012 for Emanuel's budget that closed half of the city's mental-health clinics and a 2014 vote against Emanuel's budget that included a plan to expand the city's pre-kindergarten programs to 2,600 children in low-income communities.
Arena is the alderman who most frequently votes against Emanuel's proposals, according to a study released earlier this year.
Democrats for Education Reform, which opened offices in Chicago in 2012, is funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers, records show.
"Our goal is to unseat the greatest obstacle to education reform using anything that will resonate with voters," said Owen Kilmer, who is running the independent expenditure campaign.
The education group has spent $5,400 to oppose Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) bid for the 16th Ward seat on the City Council, the only other candidate it is campaigning against.
Arena faces three challengers in his bid for re-election, including Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, whom he defeated by 30 votes in 2011.
The SEIU PAC has spent approximately $21,300 more to help Arena win re-election than any other candidate it is supporting during the 2015 election, records show.
That's because Arena is at the top of the "hit list" of aldermen Emanuel and his supporters would like to see defeated on Feb. 24, Morrison said.
Arena has probably been the target of more negative advertisements than any other City Council candidate on the ballot, Morrison said.
Many of the fliers sent to 45th Ward residents of Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Forest Glen, Gladstone Park and Irving Park by SEIU praise Arena for bringing new businesses to the ward and "revitalizing" the Six Corners Shopping District.
That has also been a major focus of Arena's re-election campaign, which credits the alderman with attracting 89 new businesses to the ward.
By law, independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate must be made without consultation or coordination with the candidate or his or her representatives.
"I'm sure Arena's campaign has the same information we do," Morrison said. "Folks give Arena credit for turning around areas that had been in decline for many years."
In addition to funding the independent expenditures, SEIU and its affiliated unions gave approximately $62,000 to Arena's campaign directly in January and February, records show.
Since Jan. 1, unions have given Arena $124,000, including $35,000 from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
State records show that contributions from unions have given Arena a huge financial advantage over Garrido and the other candidates in the race, which are Michelle Baert, who publishes a website and Facebook page filled with listings for family-friendly activities as the 45th Ward Mom, and Michael S. Diaz, who works as an attorney for the state department that regulates banks.
Arena started 2015 with approximately $80,700 on hand and has taken in a total of $143,200 since Jan. 1.
Arena has sent residents nine mailers in recent weeks, touting his record and the new businesses that have moved to the ward during his time in office.
While Arena's campaign has been flooding residents' mailboxes, Garrido spent $32,500 on billboards. His ads tower over nearly every major intersection in the ward, making it virtually impossible for drivers to miss them.
Garrido is also winning the lawn-sign battle, with dozens of his signs lining side streets in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park.
Owner Eddie Carranza closed the Portage Theater in May 2013 after Arena said he would not allow Carranza to take over the liquor and public place of amusement licenses at the Six Corners theater based on Carranza's poor track record at the Congress Theater.
Garrido has sent 45th Ward homes three fliers in recent weeks, one criticizing Arena without mentioning his name.
Garrido started 2015 with $22,000 on hand, and got $20,000 from the Fraternal Order of Police PAC on Feb. 6, records show.
Baert's campaign has been largely funded by herself and her family, records show.
Baert had $59,300 on hand to start 2015, after she gave her campaign $25,000 on Dec. 31, records show.
In all, Baert has given her campaign $38,000, records show. She has sent residents two fliers by mail.
Diaz, who was the last candidate to enter the race, raised no money in 2014 and has reported only $6,500 in contributions since Jan. 1, records show.
Diaz, whose campaign is being run by New Chicago Consulting, owes the firm $4,000, records show. New Chicago is led by Thomas Bowen, who served as Emanuel's top aide before leaving City Hall in 2012 to work as a political consultant.
Early voting is available through Saturday.
In aldermanic races where no candidate earns 50 percent of the votes cast on Feb. 24, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place April 7.
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