Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has scores of friends in high places who are willing to open their wallets to help him get elected for a second term.
Among the bigwigs writing checks: Hedge funder Ken Griffin; hedge funder Michael Sacks; non-hedge funder/Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro, whom the mayor probably calls "Bobby."
Plus: Fifty-one execs from American Airlines and United, who've collectively given Emanuel over $125,000 in campaign contributions in an apparent effort to curry favor in a city that's home to one of the most trafficked airports in the world. As the Sun-Times reports, the airliner money has flowed into Emanuel's already inflated $9 million war chest during a crucial moment for O'Hare carriers angling to gain leverage as they negotiate new leases in 2015 and deal with residential gripes including a mounting number of jet noise complaints. (O'Hare is beginning an $8 billion expansion that has made the skies much noisier.)
Emanuel pocketed $72,300 from 41 United employees after a fundraiser late last month; most of those contributors live outside of Illinois. And back in May, 10 American Airlines staffers (none of whom reside here either) forked over individual donations totaling $53,000. Quoth the paper: "Each batch of individual contributions towers over the $10,500 limit on corporate contributions set by state fundraising limits."
When Emanuel assumed office in 2011, he tweaked Chicago campaign finance laws to ban offerings from those who do business with the city. Despite what would appear to be a conflict of interest—United CEO Jeff Smisek does business with the city, no?—Emanuel told the Sun-Times editorial board Wednesday, "Everything we do is not only consistent with the law but consistent with the spirit (of the law)."
James Chmura, mayor of the O'Hare-centric town of Norridge, snipes that the mayor "is accepting contributions from two of the biggest airlines that do business in Chicago. He would say, 'They are not the company; they’re individuals.' That’s a bunch of bull. That’s just another way of camouflaging it. If the mayor wanted to do the proper thing, he would give the money back."
Defending himself further, Emanuel cited his closure of a $17 million tax loophole for airliners as evidence that he can't be bought—even during election season.
The Windy City boss, battling a steep decline in his job approval rating, saw one of his most powerful potential foes back out of the mayoral race this week when Karen Lewis, the fiery Chicago Teachers Union leader, announced she's suffering from a cancerous brain tumor. That leaves 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, a political progressive and vocal Rahm critic, as the lone viable candidate to run against the financially connected political powerhouse.