The progressive group that helped elect New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is shifting its focus to Chicago ahead of a mayoral race that could see Rahm Emanuel battling union leader-activist Karen Lewis.
The Working Families Party, aka WFP, is eyeing the Windy City after successful campaigns in New York, Seattle and Bridgeport, Conn., and the movement has passed along its strategy to Grassroots Illinois Action and other community-centric organizations as part of a collaborative effort to install progressive aldermen -- and perhaps a future mayor -- inside City Council.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that WFP is mentoring local groups on how to groom candidates and teach them about the budget and other inside-baseball know-how necessary for a career in politics.
Part of the WFP's game plan involves pushing a long bench of progressives in various communities and making their messages consistent. The goal is to staff up City Council with neighborhood Everypeople who won't automatically approve the mayor's legislation, as opposed to asleep-at-the-wheel aldermen who are almost programmed to vote with a Democratic boss no matter what.
"We're building ward committees with everyday people who are wanting to take back their city from elected officials who don’t care about them," says Grassroots Illinois director Amisha Patel. "The city election coming up is an opportunity to really bring the kind of change you saw in New York City. That same kind of frustration is really high here in Chicago."
Last year, de Blasio -- a progressive based in Brooklyn -- campaigned upon a tidal wave of middle-class anger toward New York's rising income inequality, unaffordable real estate and controversial policing methods like "stop and frisk." There was a sense of voter fatigue over the pro-business policies of former CEO-style Big Apple boss Michael Bloomberg that seemed to favor the wealthy one percent over everyday New Yorkers. When Bloomberg's three terms came to an end, it was the perfect moment for De Blasio to step forward and play the wealth gap card to win by a landslide.
Patel, who's launched the Take Back Chicago initiative to monitor aldermanic rubber-stamping, says Grassroots Illinois has "grave concerns" over Emanuel's policies but isn't "anti-Rahm."
Meanwhile, Lewis -- the fiery head of the Chicago Teachers Union -- is mulling whether to challenge Emanuel at the ballot box in February. Some progressives think the tough-talking soundbite machine may be too much of a loose cannon or an easy target for Emanuel's campaign team.
If she's not the next de Blasio, then who is?