One morning last week, the woman who has become Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s most prominent critic was the keynote speaker at a breakfast fundraiser for 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti.
True to expectations, teachers’ union leader Karen Lewis lauded the often-rebellious Fioretti as “the kind of leader we need” to alter the status quo at City Hall. She also characteristically railed against a mayor who, after winning a low-turnout election, “has taken the city like he’s the emperor.”
Taking it all in were two people long synonymous with the local power structure: former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s brother Michael and his recently hired law partner, Mara Georges.
Georges was the city’s top lawyer for most of the time Rich Daley was in office, serving so loyally that she accepted blame for City Hall screw-ups that were not her fault.
One fundraiser attendee, leaning his head across the room in the direction of Michael Daley and Georges, said, “I’m still trying to get my head around that.”
Although he’s received some contributions from Michael Daley’s firm in the past, Fioretti acknowledges he too was surprised to see one of the former mayor’s brothers breakfasting with his supporters and writing a check that could go toward trying to unseat Emanuel next year.
For almost a year, Lewis has pined loudly for someone to beat Emanuel in 2015. Fioretti won’t rule out doing that, saying he’ll decide in the next two to three months.
As difficult as it would be for Fioretti to defeat the deep-pocketed Emanuel, he wasn’t left with any easy options for extending his political career beyond next year. In the remap process, Fioretti saw his base of the past seven years hacked up and divided among eight newly drawn wards.
So what were Michael Daley and Georges doing at a Fioretti fundraiser headlined by Lewis?
As one of the city’s busiest zoning lawyers during his brother Rich’s reign, Michael Daley kept his mouth shut, sending his then-law partner to City Council meetings. Michael Daley was quiet again in December 2012, when he emerged to witness one of his nephews get sworn in as a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioner. That was right after another Daley nephew was charged criminally in the death of a young suburbanite named David Koschman.
“I don’t do interviews,” Michael Daley said at that time.
But Georges quickly returned a call this week. She handled questions about the Fioretti fundraiser with the same nonplussed demeanor we saw whenever Rich Daley tasked her with publicly trying to explain such phenomena as idling trucks, clout-hiring lists and city contracts with minority- or women-owned companies that were actually owned by white dudes.
“We were just supporting Ald. Fioretti and both of us thought it would be interesting to hear [Lewis] speak,” Georges says. “It was nothing more than that. Actually, I’m surprised you’re asking.”
The appearance at the Fioretti event “was nothing that well thought out,” she adds. “I told Michael, ‘There’s this fundraiser tomorrow morning. Why don’t you come?’ He came.”
Since Emanuel took office three years ago, he has not wasted a chance to remind people of the mess he inherited when he was elected to succeed Rich Daley. He doesn’t blame his predecessor by name, but he doesn’t have to do that. Who doesn’t know who was the city’s undisputed leader for the 22 years before Emanuel came riding back to town to save it?
Reminded of that, Georges again was — or acted as if she were — unmoved. Although she doesn’t claim to speak for the Daleys, she says of Emanuel, “I think they all believe he’s doing a fine job.”
Anyway, the barely veiled criticism from the current mayor for her old boss is “nothing surprising or out of the ordinary” in politics, Georges says.
She says the Fioretti fundraiser was her first chance to hear Lewis speak in person.
“I was very impressed,” Georges said. “She is very articulate … a very good speaker.”
Georges wouldn’t comment, though, on what she thought of Lewis’ viewpoints. The union leader’s remarks at the Fioretti event featured a call “to change the political landscape” here.
For some who’ve been among the biggest players on that landscape, maybe it’s better business to just watch the scenery change and not try to sculpt it again.
Or at least it’s better for them if everyone thinks that.