Help wanted: Petition organizers for Emanuel re-election

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign is looking to hire people to help collect the nominating signatures needed to get the mayor’s name on the February ballot.

According to a help-wanted job listing posted on the Idealist website, an unidentified “Chicago-based campaign” will pay $2,500 a month to organizers who can “recruit and train volunteers to collect petition signatures required to get the candidate on the ballot.”

The ideal candidates will have experience in political campaigns and “knowledge of Chicago politics,” according to the ad. They also must be willing to work “long hours (including nights and weekends)” for the seven weeks between their start date ofSept. 29and the filing of the nominating petitions in November.

The job posting doesn’t name the candidate, but an e-mail from the Emanuel campaign operative who posted the ad makes clear he’s looking for help for the mayor’s re-election.

“Friends . . . Do you know of any good, hard-working youngsters that would be interested in being a petition organizer for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign?” wrote the operative, Sean Schindl, in a mass email sent out last week.

The petition organizers “will likely be hired in two waves over the next month” and could remain employed by the campaign beyond the filing of petitions, according to the email obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times’ Early & Often political portal.

Candidates for mayor must turn in 12,500 valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot. Serious campaigns typically turn in at least three times the minimum number of required signatures to make sure there are enough in case of challenges to the signatures.

It’s a ritual show of force for any candidate who claims strong popular backing to show up at the city election board on filing day with tall stacks of petitions containing huge numbers of signatures.

Emanuel spokesman Steve Mayberry says the campaign plans to gather far more than the minimum number of signatures using “both paid and volunteer workers, as it did during the last election.”

Four years ago, as Emanuel was vying to replace retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, his campaign sent in veteran election lawyer Michael Kasper and operatives bearing more than 90,000 signatures.

Later that day, Emanuel called reporters to a cafeteria-style restaurant in Hyde Park to let them watch him buy lunch for an unpaid campaign volunteer he said had collected the greatest number of signatures for his mayoral run.

But even then, Emanuel’s campaign already was relying heavily on paid petition-circulators.

A review of the petitions during that race found 16 paid circulators had gathered more signatures than the unpaid volunteer who was thanked in front of TV cameras by Emanuel. Those 16 paid campaign staffers gathered nearly 40 percent of the signatures for Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral bid.

That campaign also got help passing petitions from traditional Democratic organizations from wards in Emanuel’s old congressional districts, including the 36th, 39th, 40th, 44th, 45thand 47th wards.

Such ward organizations and other establishment political groups collected most of the signatures for Daley and other machine politicians.

You could say they did it for free. The campaigns did not pay them.

But that grunt work often was done in exchange for patronage jobs with the city or other local or state government agencies. So, in a sense, taxpayers helped foot the bill to get Daley on the ballot.

Given the federal crackdown on City Hall patronage, it wasn’t surprising that Emanuel or any other rookie in a citywide campaign would have to pay to get help in doing grunt work, starting with gathering signatures.

And with more than $8.3 million in his campaign fund at last count, Emanuel can afford to pay staff to make sure there are no stumbles with this mundane yet crucial step in running for office.

Still, after nearly a full term, Emanuel might appear more popular — and more formidable — if he didn’t have to pay people to collect signatures.

Supporters of potential Emanuel challenger Karen Lewis began circulating petitions for the teachers’ union leader last weekend.

“This is a grassroots, volunteer-led effort, and no one is being paid,” Lewis spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin says.

There will be a training session for petition circulators Saturday, Gadlin added, “in anticipation of a groundswell of support for a possible Lewis run.”

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