On Aug. 28, candidates can begin circulating petitions to run for alderman in Chicago. Many of those who are already members of the City Council have a huge advantage: money.
Collectively, Chicago aldermen are sitting on millions of dollars in their campaign funds.
As of the most recent filing deadline on June 30, state campaign finance records show that the 46 current aldermen expected to run for re-election have a total of more than $19 million in their war chests.
That figure - nearly 60 percent of which belongs to powerful 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke - was surprising even to one of City Council's very own, Ald. Ameya Pawar.
"There’s some folks with giant war chests," Pawar said, before venturing to guess that the combined sum was $12 million - more than $7 million short of the actual total.
Burke has been in office since 1969 and as of June 30, had more than $11.5 million in campaign funds sitting in three political committees, according to state records.
While he certainly had the most, several other aldermen weren't doing too poorly themselves. Rounding out the top five, state records show, were 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno with $827,662.77, 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly with $755,052.59, 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett with $558,387.62 and 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares with $556,905.95.
Exactly half of the 46 aldermen expected to run for re-election had more than $100,000 in the political committees they control, according to the state Board of Elections.
That's more than Pawar spent winning the 47th Ward as a progressive underdog in 2011.
"I think in total that election cycle it was probably around $75,000," Pawar said. No stranger to the world of campaign finance, Pawar was the first to announce a run for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in 2017, but withdrew 10 months later citing a lack of money in a race that was ultimately won by a self-funding billionaire.
"I raised almost a million dollars and it wasn’t enough," he said, adding, "It’s frightening to think average people get priced out of politics today."
Pawar isn't running for re-election this time around, but said he estimated that a serious aldermanic campaign costs roughly $150,000 - a price tag that comes with a caveat.
"When money equals voice, the more money you have the more voice you have. And that’s problematic," he said.
Over the next six months, Chicagoans will vote twice: first in the November midterms, which includes the gubernatorial race between Democrat J.B. Pritzker and Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner, then again in February for the municipal election of Chicago mayor and aldermen.
Big money is in play for both elections and Pawar said that is a cause for concern.
"People have the system they asked for, because they only take candidates who have lots of money seriously," he said.
A full list of Chicago aldermen and their campaign accounts can be found below. [[491881451, C]]
Notes: Ald. Michelle Harris has a second committee, created in 2016, to support her candidacy for Cook County Clerk of Circuit Court. Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. is not the 21st Ward committeeman, his father is - but the alderman is listed as a beneficiary of the committee's support in state documents.