If Mayor Rahm Emanuel chooses to seek a third term, he’ll probably need to match the $23 million he spent in 2015 to overcome the lingering furor over his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
But every little bit helps.
On Thursday, Emanuel flew to Washington D.C. for a fundraiser hosted by political operatives he has worked with for years — in the White House under former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and as a congressman who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and engineered the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.
Tickets for the fundraiser, to benefit Emanuel’s main political fund, “Chicago for Rahm Emanuel,” ranged from $250 to $10,000.
The co-hosts included Stephanie Cutter, an Obama team veteran; Jim Messina, the manager of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign who was in the Obama White House when Emanuel was the first chief of staff; and Julianna Smoot, who was Obama’s top fundraiser in his 2008 bid. Smoot now is on the board of the Chicago-based Obama Foundation.
In December 2015, Emanuel canceled his trip to a climate-change conference in Paris and postponed a political fundraiser to devote his full attention to the crisis of confidence caused by the video played around the world of a white police officer pumping sixteen rounds into the body of a black teenager.
Replenishing his depleted campaign war chest just didn’t seem right at a time when Emanuel was fending off demands for his resignation for keeping the Laquan McDonald video under wraps for more than a year and releasing it only after a judge ordered him to do so.
Five months later, the mayor resumed his legendary fundraising at the Gold Coast home of Chicago developer Robert Wislow.
He’s been steadily raising money ever since without holding a mega-fundraiser.
In late December, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that two political funds controlled by Emanuel had taken in more than $1.6 million since the start of 2016, with $1 million of that money collected in the final four months of the year.
Chicago for Rahm Emanuel had $1 million in cash on hand as of Dec. 31. The Chicago Committee, Emanuel’s other campaign fund, reported $287,200 in receipts and $270,199 in expenditures in its last quarterly report. That committee ended the year with $88,605 in cash on hand.
On Feb. 28, the mayor reported raising another $54,200, much of it from the Melman family and other principals of Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants and other Chicago dining destinations.
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, has said Emanuel’s decision to resume his legendary political fundraising does not mean the mayor has decided to seek a third term.
It simply means that any mayor of Chicago needs campaign cash to push his legislative and political agenda and avoid the appearance of being a lame duck.
Underscoring the point, the Chicago Committee donated $50,000 last fall to Friends of Michael J. Madigan, $50,000 more to the Illinois Democratic Party — chaired by Madigan — and $25,000 to State Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
The mayor himself has told associates he is positioning himself to run for re-election, but plans to make a final decision late this year after consulting with his wife.
Sources said the mayor’s poll numbers have steadily improved since hitting rock bottom — the low 20s — as he fended off demands for his resignation in the weeks and months that followed release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Mayoral confidantes readily acknowledge the mayor still is nowhere near a 50-percent approval rating and has much work to do to shore up support among African-American voters who helped elect him in 2011 and re-elect him, even after he closed a record 50 public schools.
As always, Emanuel mixed the Washington fundraiser with some official business. But, the mayor’s office would only say those meetings are with “senior” officials of the Trump administration “regarding economic development and job creation in Chicago.”