Opinion: Axelrod's Former Firms Still Benefit From His Clout

When it comes to the business of politics, David Axelrod is a genius.

Axe has learned to Get It in all three phases of a campaign. A former reporter for the Hyde Park Herald and the Chicago Tribune, he began his career as political operative in 1984, managing the campaign in which Paul Simon unseated Sen. Charles Percy. Twenty years later, he discovered a little-known senator named Barack Obama. By crafting an ad in which Simon’s daughter Sheila endorsed Obama, he helped Obama win the Democratic primary for Senate, extended the Simon dynasty another generation, and put Obama on the path to the presidency. That was the Before.

Once Obama got there, Axelrod was appointed senior White House adviser. That was the During. Axelrod is now back in Chicago, running Obama’s presidential campaign. Once that’s over, he’ll become head of an Institute for Politics at his alma mater, the University of Chicago. That will be the After.

During the Before, Axelrod founded a public relations firm, ASGK Strategies, and a political consulting firm, AKPD Message and Media. Once he went to the White House, he sold both to his partners for a total of $3 million. But according to the Sun-Times, Axelrod's clout is still benefitting his former firm. 

Now, two of the firm’s clients — Citibank and the Chicago Cubs — have a lot riding on decisions to be made by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Axelrod friend and former White House colleague who ran on a pledge to reform a City Hall he described as riddled with influence-peddling.

Axelrod says he had no role in landing those contracts and isn’t involved in the work ASGK is doing for Citibank, which wants to help finance Emanuel’s highly touted Chicago Infrastructure Trust, or for the Cubs, who want Emanuel’s help in financing a major renovation of Wrigley Field.

Citibank may invest $200 million in Emanuel’s Chicago Infrastructure Trust, which will allow private firms to build public structures and lease them to the city. As the paper points out, Ald. Will Burns, who draws a salary from ASGK, voted for the Infrastructure Trust. Burns was a staffer in Obama’s state senate office and represents the 4th Ward, which includes the president’s Kenwood home. Hyde Parkers were once the loudest voices for reforming the Chicago Machine, but now that they have their own machine, they’re making more money off politics than Ed Burke. They’ve also learned to tell reporters who’ve become cynical about Chicago politics after 120 years of this stuff that they don’t know nothin’ about no inside deals. Both Burns and Axelrod denied knowing Citibank was ASGK client. Burns also told the Sun-Times, “I don’t do a lot of work for ASGK, to be very frank,” even though he’s listed as a “managing director.”

That’s the Chicago Way, all right.

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