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Rahm Spent up to $208 for Every New Vote in Some Wards

By Sam Cholke | April 13, 2015 5:39am | Updated on April 13, 2015 8:51am
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign gave Ald. Michelle Harris' organizations in the 8th Ward over $148,000 in the last month before the runoff election.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's campaign gave Ald. Michelle Harris' organizations in the 8th Ward over $148,000 in the last month before the runoff election.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

HYDE PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign stuffed $665,523 into the coffers of Democratic ward organizations in the run-up to the April 7 election — but in some instances got very little for its money.

According to state filings, 19 local political organizations got donations from Emanuel’s campaign ranging from $3,500 to $148,647 in the month leading up to the runoff election. The donations were mostly in African-American and Hispanic wards where the incumbent alderman was victorious on Feb. 24 and could sit out the runoff.

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) cruised to victory with 69 percent of the vote on Feb. 24 over two challengers, but her political organization found itself the beneficiary of $148,647 in campaign money from Emanuel. Harris’ former deputy chief of staff, state Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago), also received $46,122 from Emanuel’s campaign, for a total donation of $194,769 in the campaign coffers in the 8th Ward.

The 8th Ward includes South Shore, Chatham, Calumet Heights, Pullman, Avalon Park, Burnside and South Chicago.

Harris was unavailable for comment while on vacation. Evans could not be reached.

Sam Cholke says each vote gained cost plenty:

It’s unclear exactly how the money was spent or how it might have been used to help Emanuel during the runoff. Spending reports aren't due to the State Board of Elections until Wednesday.

A spokesman for Emanuel's campaign declined repeated requests for comment.

But Delmarie Cobb, a long-time political consultant who’s worked on South Side aldermanic races, said the infusion of cash was clearly aimed at getting more votes for the mayor.

“That’s exactly what it was for — putting boots on the ground,” said Cobb, who sat out the mayoral race.

Nearly a third of those who voted in the 8th Ward on Feb. 24 saw their choice for mayor knocked off the ballot, leaving at least 4,459 votes up for grabs in the runoff.

Indeed, the donations from Emanuel to three 8th Ward groups all run by Harris, Friends of Michelle Harris, 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and Committee of the 1st District State Central Committewoman, started to double as the mayoral runoff election approached. 

Cobb said the list of groups that received money included some of the most powerful ward organizations that can get people out to the polls on Election Day, including in the 8th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. The organization was formerly helmed by then-Cook County Board President John Stroger and later his son, Todd Stroger.

In this election, armies of door-knockers hit the streets campaigning for Rahm; turnout last Tuesday leapt up to 41 percent from 36 percent in February.

“The 8th Ward was key to trying to win African-American votes for Rahm, which he needed to win the election,” said Dick Simpson, a former alderman and now a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “It is, to the best of my knowledge, still a fairly strong organization although they no longer have access to patronage jobs like they did when the Strogers headed the county government.”

But capturing African-American votes in that key ward came at a cost.

For every $64.71 Emanuel’s campaign gave to 8th Ward organizations, the mayor captured one additional vote over his February totals.

Still, that was a bargain compared to what Rahm paid in the 12th Ward, which covers portions of McKinley Park and Brighton Park. The ward is home to Ald. George Cardenas and 12th Ward committeeman State Sen. Antonio “Tony” Munoz, who unseated Emanuel’s challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia from the 1st Legislative District in 1998.

Cardenas and Munoz combined received $83,940 for their organizations in one of the wards with the lowest number of registered voters, which went overwhelmingly for Garcia in February.

The money didn't buy Emanuel much support. Emanuel saw just 404 additional votes in the ward in last week's election when compared to his February vote total, while Garcia’s support rose by 1,788 votes. Garcia won the largely Hispanic ward with 75 percent of the vote.

That amounts to $208 for every new vote for Rahm.

Neither Munoz nor Cardenas responded to requests for comment about contributions to Citizens for Antonio "Tony" Munoz and Friends of Twelve.

Cobb said money is increasingly important in a post-Daley Chicago. She said city workers increasingly don’t owe their jobs to a politician and candidates now are expected to pay $40 or $60 to those who campaign door to door.

“The game has changed a lot,” Cobb said. “You have to have money now because you have to pay people.”

Cobb said that’s the strategy she saw Emanuel employ in a mayor’s race where he didn’t have a solid base like Daley had in the 11th Ward and among city workers.

Overall, in the 19 wards where Emanuel gave money, the campaign spent an average of $26.28 for every one new vote he got in April compared to February.

There were bargains to be had, though.

Emanuel picked up one additional vote over his February totals for every $1.58 he gave to political organizations in the 48th Ward.

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who was unchallenged in retaining the seat representing Edgewater, received $3,500 from Emanuel’s campaign on April 7.

In the runoff, turnout leapt to 46 percent from 38 percent, one of the highest in the city in a ward with one of the largest number of registered voters. A total of 2,531 voters that sat out the Feb. 24 vote headed to the polls last Tuesday, and Emanuel picked up an additional 2,215 votes over his February returns.

Garcia’s campaign did not transfer campaign money to any ward organizations during the runoff election, according to state filings.

In four majority-Hispanic wards where Garcia won in February, he won in April as well, despite Emanuel’s contribution to local ward organizations.

Emanuel won all majority African-American wards in the city by an average of 10 percentage points, but his margin of victory was 5 percentage points higher where he contributed to local ward organizations.

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