It’s one thing to be the City Council’s version of “Dr. No.” It’s quite another to be a mayoral candidate who must advance his own solutions to Chicago’s vexing problems.
It’s one thing to be a tireless aldermanic candidate ringing doorbells. It’s another to be a citywide candidate virtually unknown outside his fiefdom who now must build name recognition and credibility with 1.32 million registered Chicago voters.
To say that Bob Fioretti is facing an uphill battle against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his $8.3 million-and-rising campaign war chest would be an understatement. Fioretti had $326,338 in his campaign coffers as of the last quarterly report.
But don’t count Fioretti out.
If Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis joins Fioretti in challenging the unpopular incumbent, it could make it more difficult for Emanuel to get the 50 percent-plus-one votes he needs to avoid a runoff — and in a runoff, the turnout would be higher and all bets would be off.
“I don’t think Bob has any chance [of winning]. He does not seem to connect. Eighty percent of the public has never heard of him.Buthis presence reduces the possibility of somebody winning outright,” said veteran political consultant Don Rose.
“If Lewis is in there, she gets the bulk of the anti-Emanuel vote. [Fioretti] gets some of the anti-Emanuel vote that might not go to Lewis.I’ve heard objections to her based on her earlier rhetoric — that she sounds like too much of rabble-rouser. I’ve heard objections to her looks. I doubt she would have the capacity to get 50 percent in the first round.Fioretti gets a relatively small share, but his presence helps force the runoff.”
This week’s guest on, “Off Message,” the political talk show on “Early & Often,” the Chicago Sun-Times political portal, Fioretti talked about the possibility of a tag-team of challengers that pinsthe incumbent in Round One.
“If Karen gets in the race, the run-off on the day after the election in February may be between Karen and myself and not Rahm Emanuel,” Fioretti said with a straight face.
Political consultant Delmarie Cobb, who ran a candidate against Fioretti in the 2007 race for 2nd Ward alderman, wouldn’t go that far after acknowledging that Fioretti and Lewis have “similar constituencies.” But, she argued that the two natural allies would “come at this race from two different perspectives.”
“Fioretti will come from having been an alderman. He’ll talk about nuts-and-bolts issues. Karen will come from the progressive perspective of progress for all, making sure all communities have an opportunity to rise. That becomes more of a movement campaign,” Cobb said.
“There will be enough people in both camps that take from Rahm while the majority of people giving him money don’t live in the city. I don’t see any way he gets 50 percent with both of them in. It certainly prevents Rahm from getting even a fraction of the [59 percent share] black vote he got last time.”
Greg Goldner ran the 2002 campaign for Congress that Emanuel won with help from political armies commanded by then-First Deputy Water Commissioner Donald Tomczak and Streets and Sanitation deputy Dan Katalinic. Tomczak and Katalinic were subsequently convicted of rigging city hiring, promotions and overtime to benefit political armies loyal to former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Goldner made the opposite argument — that because Fioretti and Lewis would both be “attacking Emanuel from the same philosophical base,” they would make it easier for Emanuel to avoid a runoff and claim victory in round one.
“They’re almost splitting the progressive community. That’s not the right starting point to go to the white ethnic base on the Northwest and Southwest sides that might be dissatisfied with the mayorbut don’t share those leftist political views,” Goldner said.
“Where do those [disenchanted white ethnic] voters go? They probably go back to Rahm. They may not love Rahm. But, Rahm’s primary challenge is Rahm. If he does a good job of re-connecting with voters and paints a clear contrast between himself and the alternatives to him, he stands a good chance of getting re-elected.”
Fioretti, 61, was elected to the City Council in 2007 as the predominantly black 2nd Ward’s first white alderman in nearly 90 years.
After surviving tonsil cancer, he has nothing to lose by running for mayor. The new ward map put him in the newly redrawn 28th Ward after his old ward was shifted to the North Side in one of the most bizarre configurations Chicago has ever seen.
To Cobb, that makes Fioretti the most dangerous kind of opponent.
“Fioretti is gonna run a very strong campaign. We saw what he did when he ran for alderman. His strategy in the black community was to go door-to-door. In white parts of the ward, it was direct mail, because you couldn’t get into those high-rises,” Cobb recalled.
“The 2nd Ward hadn’t had a white alderman since 1915. The fact he was able to do that was very significant.”
Goldner noted that Fioretti got under Daley’s skin with his knee-jerk opposition to the former mayor’s programs. That’s a pattern that has continued under Emanuel, who has done a better job of concealing his disdain for Fioretti.
“Bob Fioretti hasn’t exhibited a lot of depth in his criticisms or offered practical, real solutions. He’s good at putting out press releases and moving on. He goes out of his way to score political points,” Goldner said.
“If your only consistent pattern of behavior is to throw rocks, it’s hard to find that endearing.”