Da Coach is no fan of Da Mayor.
State records show former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka personally contributed $2,500 on Dec. 8 to the campaign fund of Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) — one of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s challengers in next month’s city election.
On Tuesday, Ditka told the Chicago Sun-Times that his involvement in the mayoral race is based mostly on his disapproval of the incumbent. He hopes Emanuel will end up like Pat Quinn, who lost the governor’s job after Ditka cut a campaign commercial with Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
“Well, I think anything is better than what we have,” Ditka said. “Same with the governor. That was proven already. Chicago is a great city. You deserve leadership and straight-up people to operate it. You know, shame on you.”
Of Fioretti, Ditka said, ”I know him pretty well. He comes in the restaurant a lot.”
One of five Ditka’s restaurants is in the 42nd Ward, just north of the area Fioretti has represented in the City Council for the past eight years.
Fioretti has been one of the Council’s most vocal critics of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his successor.
Beyond their mutual disdain for Emanuel, however, Ditka and Fioretti make an odd team.
Despite contributing tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans before running for office, Fioretti has attempted to position himself in this nonpartisan race as a progressive, left-of-center alternative to the corporate-friendly mayor. Fioretti insists he’s “a Democrat through and through” and even mocks Emanuel as “a good Republican.”
As for Ditka, he may bleed Bears navy blue and burnt orange, but he’s always been clearly on the red side of the political line of scrimmage.
The check for Fioretti appears to be the first time that the coach of the Super Bowl XX champs has made a campaign contribution to a Democrat, according to state and federal election websites.
Illinois election-board records show just one other Ditka contribution, for $5,000, to former Bears kicker Bob Thomas’ GOP campaign for the state Supreme Court in 2000.
The Federal Election Commission’s website provides a long list of Republicans who have received help from Ditka. They include former President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as the Republican National Committee and a political fund affiliated with ex-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Ditka is so conservative he says he regrets not having run himself against another of Chicago’s iconic figures — Barack Obama — for a U.S. Senate seat in 2004.
“Biggest mistake I’ve ever made,” Ditka has said of the Senate race. ”Not that I would have won, but I probably would have and he wouldn’t be in the White House.”
Fioretti did not reply to calls seeking comment on the Ditka donation to him, and his campaign manager declined to comment.
The mayor’s re-election campaign spokesman replied, “Da Coach was a great Chicagoan.”
Notice the use of the past tense — a thinly veiled reference to Ditka being registered to vote in Florida, not Illinois.
I can’t say I think Ditka’s backing will mean much in the mayor’s race. Before the November election for governor, I scoffed at Ditka’s endorsement of Rauner.
Citing university research that downplays the significance of celebrity political endorsements, I argued that Ditka’s influence on hawking consumer goods likely dwarfs his ballot-box clout.
After aiding Rauner’s winning campaign, Ditka is entitled to do a bit of showboating in the end zone and try to pick a winner in the mayor’s race.
But $2,500 is a pittance compared with the millions Emanuel has raised from Chicago’s titans of industry and from his uber-agent brother’s friends in Hollywood.
Polls show Fioretti trailing Emanuel by more than a touchdown, and Ditka’s endorsement won’t help convince left-leaning voters that Fioretti presents their best chance of forcing Emanuel into the overtime drama of a runoff election.