Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s allies created a new super-PAC that has already raked in $1.35 million from a handful of business titans to “destroy” the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, according to one of the political targets.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), who is mulling a race for mayor against Emanuel, said “Chicago Forward” is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle City Council dissent by “taking out” eight aldermen with the guts to stand up to Emanuel.
The Progressive Caucus has been Emanuel’s most persistent critic. It includes Fioretti and seven colleagues: Leslie Hairston (5th), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Toni Foulkes (15th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nick Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).
Ten aldermen subsequently broke away from the Progressive Caucus and launched their own, more moderate “Paul Douglas Alliance.” They have adamantaly denied that the mayor asked them to do so.
That’s a divide-and-conquer move that further solidifies Emanuel’s hold on the Council.
“He’s raising money to destroy people. That PAC was created to destroy eight aldermen and their beliefs. Every time somebody does something [contrary to the mayor’s agenda], you’ll receive a mailer about it,” Fioretti told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“It’s not a grass-roots PAC. It’s a few people — big money, corporate interests that want their agenda and not the people’s agenda…It’s more charter school expansion. Keep the same few on the school board. The Progressive Caucus talks about a moratorium [on charters]. Let’s have an elected school board. Let’s have democracy rule in this city instead of the autocratic rule we’re seeing now.”
Becky Carroll, the political operative with close ties to the mayor who created “Chicago Forward,” responded to Fioretti’s charge in an e-mailed statement that outlined the PAC’s purpose.
“Our mission is to advocate for issues that will continue to move our city forward in the right direction so that every family has access to high quality school choices, good paying jobs and safe neighborhoods,” she wrote.
“We will in turn advocate for aldermanic candidates who embrace these issues and demonstrate the leadership necessary to make tough decisions that lie ahead. We’ve only just begun our fundraising efforts and, based on the significant commitments we’ve received to date, our base of support will broad.”
Chicago Forward will soon distribute questionnaires for aldermanic candidates seeking the PAC’s support, Carroll said.
The effort will, no doubt, help Emanuel’s City Council allies and bankroll challengers to Progressive Caucus members who have been a thorn in the mayor’s side.
Emanuel is bound by law to follow the state’s fundraising limits of $5,300 from individuals, $10,500 from corporations, labor organizations or associations, and $52,600 from candidate political action committees or PAC’s.
Chicago Forward, by contrast, can raise unlimited funds, but is barred by law from coordinating with the Emanuel campaign.
After raking in $1 million in less than two weeks in June, “Chicago Forward” raised another $350,000, thanks to six contributions in just one July day from well-heeled business titans and one of their wives.
The new donors included Joseph Gutman, manager partner of Grosvenor Capital ($25,000); his wife, Sheila ($25,000); David Helfand, founder of Helix Funds ($50,000); David Herro, an investment manager of Harris Associates, LP ($150,000); Robert Levy, a partner and chairman of Harris Associates and Timothy Mullen, who identified himself as a self-employed private investor ($50,000).
That brought to $1.35 million the amount Carroll has raised so far. Records show that $200,000 of the first $1 million raised by “Chicago Forward” came from Grosvenor, which bills itself as one of the world’s largest and most diversified hedge funds with $46 billion in assets under management.
Michael Sacks, the firm’s chairman and CEO, is Emanuel’s close friend and chief business adviser. Sacks also serves as vice-chairman of World Business Chicago, the nonprofit economic development arm of City Hall. He is an investor in Wrapports, the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.
Chicago Forward was created in a move viewed as a shot across the bow at Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Raising eyebrows was the PAC’s decision to line up a heavyweight team of fundraisers, political consultants and direct mail specialists.
That had some political observers convinced “Chicago Forward” was formed to run negative attack ads on Preckwinkle — or any other serious challenger — so Emanuel can remain above the fray.
Last month, Preckwinkle ruled out a race for mayor. That leaves Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Fioretti as the highest-profile challengers even thinking about challenging Emanuel.
A prolific fundraiser, Emanuel continues to raise money at a frenzied pace in hopes of scaring off potential challengers who view him as vulnerable because of his 29 percent approval rating and single-digit support among African-American voters, according to a Sun-Times poll.
The mayor already has $8.3 million-and-counting in his primary political fund.
Fioretti says he will not be intimidated by the mayor’s fundraising. But he has also acknowledged that he needs $3 million to $5 million to mount a credible challenge and has only raised about $350,000 of that amount.