Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been trying desperately to shed the “Mayor 1%” label and undercut the progressive base of his strongest challengers.
Now, he’s trying an unusual tactic for a politician accused of elitism. He’s challenging all mayoral candidates to release their tax returns, going back for at least the last five years.
That’s something the mayor has done throughout his political career — but it’s also a level of disclosure that his longtime friend, Bruce Rauner, stopped short of during a bruising gubernatorial campaign.
“Releasing your tax returns is not simply a time-honored tradition, it’s the foundation of trust with the public and a sign that you will be transparent with the voters,” Emanuel campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry was quoted as saying in a statement.
“If you want to serve the public, you need to be open and honest with them, which is why every candidate in the race should release their tax returns.”
Mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti said he would gladly release his tax returns in response to Emanuel’s challenge.
But Fioretti said he “finds it strange” that a mayor who cashed in on his political connections after leaving the Clinton White House would choose to make that an issue one month before the mayoral election.
“He’s the one who follows his friends from Wall Street and special donors [to raise more than $11 million] and he’s asking everybody else to disclose their finances?” Fioretti said.
“It’s a red-herring. The mayor doesn’t want to address the everyday issues impacting real Chicagoans. Does he not want to talk about crime in our streets or city finances? What about our schools and the money we owe police, fire, and teachers for their pensions, our schools? The list goes on.”
County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia had a similar response.
“As probably the candidate with the lowest income over the past five years, I don’t see much of a problem with that. The light of day needs to be shined on everything that is public. . . . I wish we could shine the light of day on the tax-increment-financing fund of our taxpayer dollars.”
Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson, who bought himself instant credibility by donating $1 million to his campaign, said, “I have no problem releasing my taxes at all. In fact, I challenge him. He’s trying to find ways to get back in office. I think the guy has lost it.”
Last summer, Emanuel made his tax returns available in response to a request from the Chicago Sun-Times.
It showed the mayor’s household income held steady at just over $374,000 in 2013, with his family’s investments providing a six-figure boost to the mayor’s $204,634 City Hall salary.
After deductions including mortgage interest, property-tax payments on two homes and gifts to charity, the Emanuels paid $74,252 in federal income taxes. The family’s state tax bill was $17,548.
Emanuel’s income as mayor pales in comparison to the numbers he pulled in when he worked as an investment banker; that was between the time he left President Bill Clinton’s administration in late 1998 and was sworn in as a congressman in January 2003. During that time, he reportedly made more than $18 million.
In 2013, Emanuel and wife, Amy Rule — who have three children — reported nearly $160,000 in investment income from JP Morgan Chase and Golub Capital Partners, including about $22,000 from foreign investments. They have no overseas accounts, a spokeswoman said.
The Emanuels paid $16,540 in property taxes on their house in Ravenswood, and another $8,891 on a second home in Union Pier, Mich., the returns show. They also reported making more than $33,000 in charitable contributions.
Democrats made a major campaign issue out of the release of Rauner’s tax returns and investments he has domiciled in the Cayman Islands.
The multimillionaire released his returns, but refused to make public the accompanying schedules, some of which would include details about the sources of Rauner’s investment income. Rauner continued to resist even after Emanuel urged his buddy to release the information, calling it a “rite of passage” that candidates for public office simply cannot avoid.
“Running for office and releasing your taxes is like a rite of passage. You have to do it,” the mayor said at the time, adding:
“When I ran for Congress, I released my taxes. When I ran for mayor, I released my taxes. I released my taxes when I was [White House] chief of staff, even though I was not in elected office, but it was an office in the public trust. I do believe in a separation. You’re still allowed a personal life and a private life. Your taxes, though . . . they speak to what I think is the right thing to do. And it’s a rite of passage running today for office, especially chief executive.”