Two weeks ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel persuaded the City Council to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 to help him shed the “Mayor 1%” label and undercut the progressive base of his strongest challengers.
Now, the mayor has made that historic vote a cornerstone of his latest television commercial.
The 30-second spot stars Sharita Wilson, an African-American, single mom in Hyde Park, who is struggling to raise her two kids on the $8.25-an-hour minimum wage.
Wilson talks about getting her paycheck, looking at the meager amount and saying to herself, “Oh my God. That’s not even gonna cover half of my bills.”
She bemoans having to worry every day and how “draining” it is trying to “live a normal life” with “so much on your back.”
Then, she talks about the City Council vote and the role the mayor played in it.
“$13 an hour, I could buy my kids Christmas gifts that they want,” Wilson is quoted as saying.
The ad closes with what Emanuel hopes will seal the deal with African-American voters who helped put him in office but abandoned him in droves after he closed a record, 50 Chicago Public Schools.
“Actions speak louder than words. And his actions show he wants to fight for us,” Wilson is quoted as saying.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), a mayoral challenger, cast one of 44 votes in favor of the $13-an-hour minimum wage even though he wanted to go all the way to $15 an hour.
Fioretti’s campaign consultant, Michael Kolenc, turned the commercial’s closing line against the mayor.
“Actions do speak louder than words, and the mayor’s actions show he only has regard for struggling families during an election season,” Kolenc was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.
“The people know the mayor’s plan keeps workers making just pennies above the poverty line in 2019 and is another example of him continuing to move Chicago in the wrong direction. So far, his $2.5 million on television ads have not changed that fact.”
Emanuel’s campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry countered, “This from the guy who voted for the $13 minimum wage he now criticizes, but voted against providing housing to homeless veterans, has a well documented history of not paying his own employees at his businesses, and had never once in his seven-a-half-year career in City Council passed a minimum wage increase.”
That didn’t stop mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia from getting in on the tag-team attack.
“There is a difference between making hard decisions and being hard headed. Working men and women fought for years to raise the minimum wage, but Mayor Emanuel refused to listen,” Garcia’s spokesperson Monica Trevino said in an emailed statement.
“He could have passed a minimum wage hike his first year in office. Instead, he waited for his last. Even now, most people will not see the full benefits of the law for another 5 years. Contrast this with the fact Mayor Emanuel got a campaign commercial up just two weeks after the minimum wage hike passed, and it should be clear Mayor Emanuel only cares about Chicago’s working families at election time.”
The attack drew yet another retort from the Emanuel campaign.
“Mr. Garcia hasn’t pushed for a higher minimum wage even once during the past four years as a Cook County commissioner nor did he accomplish anything on the issue during his time in the state legislature or City Council,” Mayberry wrote in an email.
“Unlike Mayor Emanuel, who has successfully raised the minimum wage three times in 20 years, Ald. Garcia, Sen. Garcia, and Commissioner Garcia have all failed to deliver on higher wages for our workers and now Candidate Garcia shouts platitudes from the sidelines instead of offering solutions.”
Emanuel called the Dec. 2 special City Council meeting to raise Chicago’s minimum wage amid concern that the Illinois General Assembly would approve a lesser, statewide increase — from $8.25 to $10 an hour — that would have prohibited Chicago from going higher.
But when Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan ruled out legislation that ties Chicago’s hands, it became clear that the rush to approve a $13-an-hour minimum wage was more about Emanuel’s race to the political left than it was about beating Springfield to the punch.
“It’s not about whether you go left or right. It’s whether you’re gonna move forward or not. And I’m gonna lay out specific ideas — about public safety, public education, city finances, job creation and investment in transportation — and people will judge that,” the mayor told reporters that day.
“This has been frozen since 2007. You’ve had a series of elections beforehand. If it was only about elections, people would have done it for the 2008 election. They would have done it for the 2010 election. They would have done it for the 2012 election.”
Asked what was the rush if Madigan was determined to insulate the city, the mayor said, “There were rising forces talking about not allowing the city to move. And if we had not moved, [Chicago] could have been locked in place and we would not see a minimum wage . . . reflective of the cost-of-living in Chicago.”
Emanuel added, “I wanted to make sure, given all of the work over the last eight months, [that] not only didn’t it go to waste but we . . . not let Springfield strip Chicago and working families of the raises that correspond to paying bills here in Chicago. Had we not acted…there’s a lot of forces that push back against an increase in the minimum wage.”
The mayor has said he’s convinced the city’s home-rule authority allows Chicago to chart its own course.
Business interests are not so sure.
The minimum wage ad is Emanuel’s fourth to blanket the air waves in an attempt to rebuild his plummeting poll numbers.
The first ad featured an an Hispanic activist who credited Emaneul with closing coal-fired plants — even though a 10-year community campaign had more to do with it. The second ad starred City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman talking about a Colleges-to-Careers program that was actually initiated by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Hyman is a Daley holdover.
The mayor’s fourth ad featured Ald. Joann Thompson (16th) discussing Emanuel’s efforts to eradicate food deserts and bring a Whole Foods to Chicago’s impoverished Englewood community.