Laura Washington: Two early bets to be Chicago’s next mayor

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Retiring City Treasurer Kurt Summers | Sun-Times file photo

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Chicago’s 2019 mayoral campaign is already underway. Two men just made moves that could help position them for potent runs.

Last week, Chicago City Treasurer Kurt Summers took a stand at odds with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And the week before, Troy LaRaviere, an educator and avowed Emanuel critic, was elected president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association.

One man, Summers, is a blue-chip establishment man. The other, LaRaviere, is a grassroots rabble-rouser. Both are African American, hyper-ambitious and charismatic.

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They say are just doing their jobs. But, given the current state of the city, if Emanuel ran for a third term today, he likely would lose.

Summers’ auspicious political future was launched in 2014 when Emanuel tapped him to replace the resigning treasurer, setting up the investment banker to win the office handily in the 2015 election.

A South Side native and Harvard University MBA, Summers was a senior vice president at Grosvenor Capital Management, run by Michael Sacks, a close Emanuel adviser.

Added intrigue: Summers also served as chief of staff for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, no Emanuel fan.

Last week, Summers wrote to three employee pension funds representing city workers, laborers and firefighters, urging them to consider class-action suits against big banks to restore money lost to so-called “toxic swap” investments. Chicago’s teachers and police pension funds already have gone to court.  The suits generally allege that certain financial institutions, in Summers words, “engaged in collusive, anti-competitive behavior that enabled them to maintain control of the interest rate swap market resulting in billions of dollars of unjust enrichment.”

Summers, in a phone interview Friday, called on Emanuel and other officials to join legal actions that could reap “north of tens of millions of dollars” for city-related pensions alone. “Given the fiscal situation we are in, at the city, county and state levels,” he said, “we have no choice but to pursue this aggressively.”

Emanuel has resisted such calls. And critics like the Chicago Teachers Union and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who ran against Emanuel in 2015, say the mayor’s investment strategy is robbing the poor to favor the rich.

Summers is adamant that his move is not about politics, but about fulfilling his “fiduciary obligation” to recoup funds for the taxpayers.

On the mayoral speculation? “Stop. Just stop.” It would be “irresponsible,” he added, for him to focus on anything other than the myriad problems our city faces.

Yet his move helps carve out a valuable brand of independence and fiscal wisdom.

Last month, CPS removed LaRaviere from his job as principal of Blaine Elementary School, charging him with misconduct. He is appealing, arguing it was retribution for supporting Garcia and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

LaRaviere will be a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention. He appeared in a TV ad for the Vermont Senator; in it he excoriated Emanuel.

LaRaviere will use the principals’ association perch as a bully pulpit. “I don’t think Rahm can be elected dog catcher, and I think he knows it,” he told WLS-AM last week.

Emanuel is subsumed in efforts to rebuild voter trust, especially among African Americans; stem gun violence and police misconduct; and fix the city’s troubled schools. The Chicago City Council has grown a backbone. Emanuel’s heavy-hitting political allies are laying low.

Too early for 2019? Chicago suffers from a leadership vacuum that is dying to be filled. Never too early for that.

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