Brooke Anderson worked as the communications director for Gery Chico’s mayoral campaign. Now with Serafin and Associates, she talked with Ward Room about the frustrations of running against Rahm Emanuel, a candidate with unlimited financial resources, and a celebrity that transcended local politics.
Q: What were the best and worst moments of the campaign?
A: One of my favorite days of the campaign was when we did a press conference with a pet store owner and an angry coalition of dogs, cats and pet owners to oppose the Rahm tax. I miss the early 5 a.m. text messages from Gery with his comments on the media. I would go to bed maybe 1-ish, wake up between 5 and 6. But it felt like nothing. The most disappointing moment in the whole campaign, it was the week that Rahm had been tossed off the ballot, and I turned on CNN, and saw a huge picture of Alderman Burke, a huge picture of Justice Burke, and the headline was, "Could Rahm be a victim of Chicago politics?" You really felt this national wave of sympathy and conspiracy theories. It was wrongly headed and wrongly associated. Gery had nothing to do with that challenge. You felt really powerless to see that tidal wave of public sentiment being generated because it was false. There was no connection.
Q: You don't think Burke was involved?
A: There was some speculation on that, but nobody ever had any evidence.
Q: There were profiles of Emanuel in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times magazine. Did you try to get national media for Chico?
A: We reached out and engaged with members of the national media. A lot of it was educational, because they just thought it was a campaign that was all about Rahm. I didn't allow that to frustrate, because a profile in a national publication isn't going to play the hugest role in determining a local campaign. I remember seeing a story on a TV station saying that Rahm had done an interview on another TV station. From the beginning, we were fighting a tidal wave of inevitability.
Actually, at the end, we ended up turning down some national media because we didn't have time to do them. I couldn't commit my candidate, because he was trapped in a room fundraising. It was a local election, so at the end of the day, I prioritized the local media.
At some point, we had to make the choice where we were allowed to put more opportunity for interviews and media events in the middle of the campaign. At the very end, the fundraising component had to take a much larger role than it would have for the mayor-elect, because his fundraising operation was nationwide. Gery would literally be trapped in the fundraising room for eight hours a day, and I would get maybe a slice of a half hour in the middle of the day to do a press conference during his lunch break. We had to book our schedule accordingly. I had to sneak the media interviews in.
Q: Do you think that the residency challenge hurt your ability to get your message out, by sucking up so much media?
A: I do, because it was also during a period where we had a more balanced opportunity to engage in the media early on. In the new year, we were so focused on fundraising, because we really needed that money to compete. We came into the New Year, and we were having an announcement on Gery's jobs plan, and the political press corps is at Rahm's residency hearing. The debate was not elevated one bit by coverage of Rahm's residency hearing. It actually did work against us.
Q: The fact that he was so much the story, when he didn't show up at these community forums, did that ensure there was going to be less coverage at these forums?
A: If Rahm was there, he has celebrity news value. Part of it reflects the celebrity nature of the media in 2011. I felt that we adhered to issues. It was never anything personal.
Q: When you talked about Rahm going to New Trier, wasn't that kind of personal?
A: Our argument was never, "Don't vote for him because he went to high school here." It was, "Maybe that explains why he proposes out-of-touch policies like the Rahm tax." I thought that that was a valid issue. It was never anything personal.
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