CITY HALL — A fundraising committee set up by Mayor Rahm Emanuel is throwing its support behind some of his most loyal supporters on the City Council, especially ones facing tough re-election campaigns ahead of Tuesday's municipal election
Chicago Forward, widely considered an Emanuel campaign war chest, while technically established by a longtime aide, is funding mailings, robocalls and online promotions for aldermen who have supported him — spending a total of $649,596 on 21 sitting aldermen, and another $43,586 on two candidates in open wards, according to mandatory state filings through Wednesday evening.
"It will make aldermen more beholden to the mayor and more fearful that he might oppose them in the next election," said Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Formerly a reform-minded alderman in the City Council, Simpson is author of studies that declared the council a "rubber stamp" under Emanuel.
Simpson said the ultimate effect of the mayor's financial support is aldermen will be "more resistant to vote against any of his measures." He pointed out Emanuel has never lost a vote in his first term and has never had to exercise his veto power.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) has enjoyed the most support so far, at $60,250, but Aldermen John Pope (10th), Deb Mell (33rd) and James Cappleman (46th) have all received more than $50,000 from the fund.
Emanuel is of course supporting the two aldermen he appointed in his first term. According to reports filed with the State Board of Elections, Mell benefited from $8,415 funneled through AMS Communications on her behalf on Feb. 13 and another $8,560 on Feb. 5, as well as $8,610 on Feb. 4 and $8,239 on Jan. 28. She also was the recipient of $14,597 in aid delivered through Trilogy Interactive, which specializes in online campaigns, on Feb. 4. She picked up another $2,222 Tuesday through Campaign Communication Solutions. That's a combined $50,643 in campaign spending.
Mell, appointed to replace her father, Dick Mell, in July 2013, is in a hotly contested three-way race against Chicago Teachers Union member Tim Meegan and reformer Annisa Wanant.
Ald. Natashia Holmes (7th), appointed by Emanuel two years ago to replace the disgraced Sandi Jackson, faces no fewer than seven challengers in her race. She got $8,756 worth of support in the form of work done by AMS Communications paid on Jan. 28, and $18,326 in online support from Trilogy Interactive paid on Feb. 4. A new report filed Tuesday said she received an additional $9,595 boost through AMS Communications last Friday, for a total of $36,677.
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While widely considered a "super" political action committee, Chicago Forward is technically an independent-expenditure committee, according to its chairwoman and creator, Becky Carroll. It has few if any fundraising and spending restrictions, as long as it doesn't work in concert with the Emanuel campaign.
"We engage in independent expenditures and not coordinate with campaigns or donate directly to them," Carroll said.
It gained notoriety this month for funding attack campaigns against Aldermen John Arena (45th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd), two members of the Progressive Reform Caucus who most frequently vote against the mayor on contentious issues. A year-end report said it had just under $2 million on hand for the campaign.
Yet having spent less than $10,000 apiece on those negative campaigns, it's spending far more in support of aldermen who support the mayor, with Aldermen Anthony Beale (9th), Lona Lane (18th), Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Danny Solis (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Rey Colon (35th), Emma Mitts (37th), Margaret Laurino (39th), Patrick O'Connor (40th), Michele Smith (43rd) and Debra Silverstein (50th) all receiving multiple infusions of support totaling more than $10,000 apiece, in addition to the aforementioned money spent on Cappleman, Pope, Mell and Graham.
Smith, for one, took issue with the suggestion it would put her in the mayor's debt.
"I am beholden only to the residents of the 43rd Ward," Smith said. "I am happy to have the mayor's support. I support him when he does what is best for our ward, but I do not support him when he does not do what is best for our ward."
Carroll, who previously served as spokeswoman for Chicago Public Schools in the Emanuel administration, emphasized that the PAC operates independently, but at the same time in obvious support of aldermen who have supported the mayor.
"It's our viewpoint that Chicago needs leaders in the City Council who are gonna roll up their sleeves and work together to make tough decisions to keep the city moving forward in the right direction," Carroll said.
She denied it made for more of a rubber stamp to the mayor's desires in the council, saying, "You'll find that most aldermen on the City Council have been able to express differences of opinion, whether it's publicly or privately." Carroll added they nonetheless manage to work "in a collaborative fashion."
She took issue with complaints that the PAC has funded attack campaigns against members of the Progressive Reform Caucus, calling them "a make-believe story" and "a great fundraising pitch," but pointing out the PAC has spent much more in support for aldermen favorable to the mayor than it has attacking his opponents.
Yet that cut both ways. The late Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) received $13,121 in work through Trilogy Interactive and $7,464 through AMS Communications in her race to fend off Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), a Progressive Reform Caucus member trying to move over after her ward was drastically remapped. Thompson, however, was removed from the ballot following her sudden death last week. Even so, Carroll insisted it was "inaccurate" to say funding one candidate was working to oppose another, adding that Chicago Forward simply pays the bills — and reports it to the state — one way or the other.
Others receiving indirect aid through Chicago Forward, according to state records, include Aldermen Will Burns (4th), Michelle Harris (8th) and Joe Moore (49th).
Altogether, these are some of the mayor's most trusted and valued aldermen, with O'Connor serving as his floor leader, Harris as chairman of the Rules Committee, and Laurino as president pro tempore when Emanuel is away from the podium during council proceedings.
A key indication of where the mayor's favorites lie is in the big-budget expenditures for online campaigns: $19,506 for Graham, $19,328 for Smith, $19,313 for Lane, $17,059 for Cappleman, $15,587 for Pope and $14,597 for Mell, in addition to the money spent on Holmes and Thompson.
Just last week, 11th Ward candidate Patrick Daley Thompson joined Glenda Franklin, in the 17th Ward, as the only candidates getting Chicago Forward support who are not sitting aldermen. Franklin received $7,785 through AMS Communications on Feb. 11 and another $8,325 the next day, while Thompson received two $8,120 infusions through AMS last week. They received new support this week to push both over $20,000.
"I suspect they'll be giving out even more and being more active in the runoffs," Simpson said, estimating that some aldermen might receive $50,000 overall from the PAC.
The election is next Tuesday, but in races where no candidate gains a majority of votes the top two finishers advance to a runoff April 7.
"It's very clear that several aldermen are headed for runoffs," Carroll said, adding that Chicago Forward would "continue engaging in the runoffs."
Byron Sigcho, who's running against Solis in the 25th Ward, acknowledged that "it makes it much harder" for a challenger to beat an incumbent alderman with the mayor's backing, but he also said the spending draws attention to races where the mayor feels his candidate is vulnerable.
"I think people can see that," Sigcho said, adding that the support Solis has received, including an additional $8,040 through AMS Communications just last week, points to how "we know he's in trouble."
Simpson said there was little to be done to address the issue under current campaign financing laws, adding, "The only thing you can do, if you support one of the other aldermanic candidates, is raise enough money so they can get their message out."
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