The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Labor Unions Begin Throwing Money Chuy Garcia's Way

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 3, 2014 10:45PM

Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.
Last week the Reader’s Steve Bogira wrote about Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s chances of defeating Rahm Emanuel in the February mayoral election or at least forcing Emanuel into a runoff. “I can think of nine million reasons Jesus Garcia can't beat Rahm Emanuel,” was how Bogira began his profile of Garcia, referencing the current size of Emanuel’s campaign war chest. “But with his experience and shining reputation, and the endorsement of Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis,” Bogira adds, “Garcia, 58, has the best chance of being that challenger.”

Bogira lists other obstacles Garcia will need to overcome but we’re of the belief that trying to solicit donations at Emanuelian levels isn’t one of them. House Majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia lost a June primary battle against Dave Brat, who had $100,000 in his campaign fund while Cantor was able to raise millions. If Cantor can lose an election with advantages in party endorsements and fundraising, imagine what a savvy campaigner can do against a vulnerable incumbent like Emanuel.

Still, Garcia has to raise some money and a $250,000 contribution from SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana is an impressive drop in the bucket. The union, an offshoot of the Service Employees International Union, is just one of several five- and six-figure donations to Garcia’s campaign from organized labor and sets the stage for more as unions begin to flex their political muscle in the campaign. Crain’s Chicago Business reports Garcia’s campaign has received $16,000 from Karen Lewis’ campaign fund and is set to see six-figure donations from the American Federation of Teachers, which promised to donate $1 million to Lewis’ campaign if she challenged Emanuel. (Lewis decided against running for mayor when she revealed she had a brain tumor.)

Garcia’s donations are a far cry from what Emanuel has at his disposal and is able to raise with a phone call to Hollywood agent brother Ari and other power brokers, but it is enough for Garcia to establish a campaign office, hire staff and buy airtime on TV and radio to run campaign ads. It's a guarantee Garcia will not be able to keep pace with Emanuel on the fundraising trail, but if he's a dogged and smart candidate he won't have to in order to put Emanuel on the defensive.

So thank you, William Kelly, for removing the fundraising limits in the election by donating $100,000 to your own campaign (before deciding not to run).

Emanuel has made a lasting enemy in labor unions, particularly Chicago Teachers Union, during his time in office and it would seem they would be hell bent on ensuring he’s a one-term mayor. But the SEIU Healthcare donation was made without the blessing of the union’s state council, which pledged earlier to remain neutral in the mayoral race. SEIU State Council President Tom Balanoff said the donation was “in direct violation of that vote and the constitution and bylaws of the Illinois State Council. The violation will be addressed through SEIU's official internal processes.”

Emanuel has made peace with some labor groups during his time in office but the SEIU rift could be indicative of similar fractures between other major unions and their rank-and-file. If Garcia, Ald. Bob Fioretti, Amara Enyia or another candidate can capitalize on these rifts, then maybe Emanuel will have to dig deep into his war chest in order to avoid a runoff. The race for the Fifth Floor of City Hall is only now becoming interesting.