Several elections ago, what feels like a political lifetime, a wealthy guy named Bruce Rauner wanted to run for governor.
In those early days of 2013, Rauner knew he had to appeal to the far right to get through the Republican primary, while staying somewhat toward the middle to not alienate voters he would need in the general election.
That meant staying as far away as he could from an old pal — Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
As one of my colleagues, Neil Steinberg, once entertainingly put it: the two are like lovers who see each other at a party but have to pretend they don’t know each other.
In the thick of the Republican primary, Rauner’s opponents tossed Emanuel’s name at him like it was a dirty word.
They called him “Rahmner.” They accused the private equity investor of making Emanuel wealthy after Emanuel left his post as White House chief of staff. They brought up the fact that the two took fishing trips together at Rauner’s Montana ranch and that their families vacationed together.
A Sun-Times analysis showed the two shared a slew of wealthy, top-tier contributors, including some of the wealthiest businessmen in the world.
The pair’s fine tastes in wine were the subject of much scrutiny before the gubernatorial election.
Rauner eked his way through the primary and went on to win the general election by a comfortable margin.
Now, the tables are turned. It’s Rauner who is the dirty word in the Emanuel camp, as the mayor failed to reach the more than 50 percent needed to avoid an April 7 runoff against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
The governor just proposed a budget that would mean $125 million in cuts to the local share of income taxes coming to the city of Chicago.
Emanuel angrily slammed the plan, saying, “Do not think you’re gonna do this — not only on the backs of families and children, but on the resources that . . . pay for our police and firefighters and first responders.”
Garcia said he didn’t believe Emanuel and wanted to make sure the public knew the mayor and the governor had a high-flying backstory.
“He and Rauner are good friends,” Garcia said after Emanuel’s comments on the budget. “They apparently share expensive wines together. They talk on a very regular basis. I’m sure the mayor had advanced notice that these cuts were coming down. The mayor should have ensured that the governor wouldn’t have the audacity to even think about draconian cuts.”
Voters’ biggest beef with Emanuel was over closing 50 schools and for his reputation for making decisions unilaterally. So now isn’t the time to be seen hanging out with the governor, whose budget proposes cuts to the CTA and other city entities.
One Emanuel supporter told me Tuesday it’s the mayor’s hard-charging style that make him the best equipped to push back — or negotiate with — the governor.
But Garcia supporter and progressive caucus member Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) argues the opposite is true.
“Rauner and Rahm are drinking buddies,” Munoz said. “They’re wine-tasting buddies. They vacation together. I mean, who vacations with someone that you’re going to call out for cutting social services? Chicago is a beer-and-brats kind of town — not a cheese-and-wine kind of town.”
Those are not-so-veiled references to Rauner and Emanuel having been photographed vacationing in Montana, with the mayor holding a pricey bottle of wine. Rauner revealed during the governor’s race that he belonged to a $100,000 wine club. Not good, if you’re trying to get away from the “Mayor 1%” image.
So will the “Rahmner” taunts keep rolling as Garcia pushes for an April victory?
Not necessarily. While it could help Garcia politically to bash Rauner in the short-term — there aren’t too many Republican voters in Chicago — it could create friction down the road should Garcia prevail in April.
“I would suggest not doing it directly about Rauner,” said University of Illinois political science professor Dick Simpson.
Simpson, a former Chicago alderman, said Garcia would be wise to focus any criticism on the proposed budget itself, its potential harm to the city and the fact that it could further complicate efforts to fund a large pension payment that comes due later this year.
“I don’t know that he needs to get into a fight with the governor,” said Simpson.