Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Emanuel Uses $6.2 Million to Send a Message

Campaign filings show Mayor Emanuel has $6.2 million in campaign funds

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    Boy, $6.2 million is a lot of money.

    On Wednesday, campaign filings showed Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel has $6.2 million in his campaign war chest more than a year out from the 2015 city elections.

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    Has any candidate for mayor in Chicago ever collected as much money as Emanuel? Has any candidate ever needed to?

    It hardly seems likely. The last semi-annual report filed on behalf of former mayor Richard M. Daley showed roughly $1.2 million sitting in his campaign coffers.

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    In fact, for years Daley was mildly criticized for collecting what was then seen as an almost obscene amount of campaign contributions, especially since he often ran against poorly-funded, relatively unknown challengers.

    In the run up to the 2007 election, for example, Daley collected more than $3 million when he ran against Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown and the unknown Dock Walls.

    But this? $6.2 million? This is something else.

    That’s because, in a lot of ways, Rahm Emanuel is a different kind of mayor than Chicago has seen in a very long time.

    The city’s last five mayors—stretching all the way back to Richard J. Daley’s first election more than half a century ago—came from Chicago, at least politically.

    Both Daleys, Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne and Harold Washington were all products of the Chicago Machine and local politics, in one way or another. Even Harold, outsider as he was, cut his teeth working for former 3rd Ward alderman Ralph Metcalf.

    But not the current mayor. Almost from the beginning, Rahm worked a national stage that took him to the White House twice and high leadership positions in the U.S. Congress.

    And, as Chicago journalist Kari Lydersen has detailed in her book Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the rise of Chicago’s 99%, when not in politics, Emanuel trafficked in high-powered deals with wealthy business people and national political figures, enriching himself in the process.

    So, maybe for him $6.2 million isn't a whole lot of money. And, undoubtedly, as the 2015 election draws near, that figure will go even higher.

    But the question becomes: who really needs $6.2 million to run for mayor of Chicago?

    I would argue no one does. There’s simply not enough TV ad time or glossy mailers available in the world to justify spending $6.2 million in a mayoral campaign.

    And, truth be told, you don't need $6 million to pay people to stand outside of polling places or drive elderly voters to the polls, even if you wanted to.

    So, then, that money must be meant for someone or something else.

    And, it is. It’s meant for those poor fools who might get a notion in their head that maybe, just maybe, running for mayor against Emanuel is a good idea.

    Get into the race, the message goes for any candidate thinking of challenging Rahm, and he’ll bury you so deep you won't get a table at a decent restaurant in this town again.

    Or get your telephone calls returned ever again from anyone who matters politically in Chicago.

    But there’s another truth that has to be acknowledged in mayoral politics: Chicago, for all of its insider deals and political favoritism, isn't for sale. At least not for $6.2 million.

    In politics, there’s a lot of ways someone can run a smart, grassroots campaign that can balance out an incumbent’s fundraising advantage.

    More importantly, in a city facing as many problems as this one has, it shouldn't be hard to find a winning message that leverages a fundamental critique of how the city is currently run or what a brighter future could look like in opposition to the current administration.

    Sure, to do so would take some money. But not $6.2 million.

    All it would take would be to refuse to heed the message Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to send.

    For the sake of balance and democracy, here’s hoping there’s some poor fool out there willing to try.