The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Man Behind 'Chuy Muffins' Hopes To Push Mayor Emanuel Out Of Office

By Mark Konkol | February 27, 2015 8:44am
 Pete Steinau supports mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and calls himself the "muffineer to the movement." He said he's fighting for progressive causes "one muffin at a time."
Pete Steinau supports mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and calls himself the "muffineer to the movement." He said he's fighting for progressive causes "one muffin at a time."
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/ Mark Konkol

WEST LOOP — Everybody knows Mayor Rahm Emanuel is flush with campaign cash, but his challenger, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, may have an advantage in homemade muffin donations.

That’s right, Chuy has been endorsed by "The Muffin Man" — Pete Steinau, that is.

I realize that might sound silly.

But folks inside the Garcia campaign said Steinau’s three-times-a-week deliveries of “Chuy Muffins” are tasty evidence of a grassroots progressive political resurgence in Chicago.

On Thursday, I spotted Steinau’s latest contribution to Garcia’s mayoral run — a fresh batch of carrot-raisin muffins — at the West Loop campaign headquarters, along with a group of young, energetic volunteers and an old guy — 61-year-old progressive political strategist Clem Balanoff.


Balanoff, the veteran Southeast Side activist who helped rally support for the late Mayor Harold Washington’s historic 1983 election win, talked excitedly about the tasty muffins' symbolic role in a campaign that “shook up the political establishment.”

“There’s a lot of energy here. It feels like 30 years ago. Chuy’s campaign was built around grassroots contributions of individuals, working-class people all around the city, and they do all kinds of things. They make their own buttons. The campaign has produced six or eight buttons, but there are about 30 different buttons out there,” Balanoff said.

“People are making their own signs, and it’s because people want to be part of something. These muffins are a very good example of that.”

Steinau, a 72-year-old physician recruiter and amateur baker, calls himself a “third-generation old lefty.”

His business card defines his political role as “muffineer to the movement” with a mission of supporting progressive causes “one muffin at a time.”

Steinau’s old school, bake sale-style support of Garcia was inspired by his family’s long history of activism.

“My parents were active in the peace movement in Cape Cod. And my grandfather was a hell-raiser in 1910,” the muffin man said. “And personally, I’ve evolved into more of a progressive than when I was younger.”

Steinau, who lives with his wife, Connie, in the West Loop, said there was a time when Emanuel’s campaign might have benefited from his muffin deliveries.

“I did vote for Rahm four years ago. I was caught up in the magic of Obama, and Rahm had that flavor to him,” Steinau said.

“But I’ve been disappointed since then. I think he’s a corporatist. There were a lot of reasons for closing all those schools, but I think the biggest one for Rahm was union-busting.”

And for that, Steinau delivers 35 “Chuy Muffins” — that’s three dozen minus the one he eats, according to campaign insiders tipped off by his wife — to the Garcia campaign office about every other day.

Each muffin is tagged with quotes that aim to inspire Garcia’s volunteers.

“I like to attach quotes from famous philosophers from Nietzsche to Roseanne Barr,” Steinau said.

One of his carrot-raisin muffins contained the inspiring words of the TV funny lady: “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.”

Another quoted President John F. Kennedy, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Steinau said providing regular shipments of tasty muffins — a rotating batch of blueberry, banana-oatmeal, carrot-raisin and pumpkin — helps get the biggest bang for his campaign donation buck.

“It would be easy to write a check for $200. But for that money, I can make 100 dozen muffins that might cost the campaign $3,000 to buy at a store,” he said.

“The way I look at it, I’m leveraging my investment. I enjoy baking, and the volunteers seem to like it. One day I went into the office and four or five people stood up and cheered. I feel like I’m really contributing. It gets them energized.”


For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: