MIHALOPOULOS: Garrett Popcorn says nothing cheesy about Rahm donations

SHARE MIHALOPOULOS: Garrett Popcorn says nothing cheesy about Rahm donations

A worker fills an order at a Garrett Popcorn store slugged: GARRETTS (Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)

Garrett Popcorn Shops lost a legal fight a few years ago to keep calling its famed carmel- and cheese-flavored popcorn the “Chicago Mix.” That apparently hasn’t stopped the chain from embracing the Chicago Way.

The Chicago for Rahm Emanuel campaign committee recently reported getting a total of $15,000 from three executives of Garrett Brands — which will open two Garrett Popcorn Shops outlets at Midway Airport under the airport concessions deal approved earlier this year by the mayor and aldermen.

It’s just the latest example of money flying into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign coffers from people who are profiting from the ongoing overhaul of Midway concessions.


The contributions from the Garrett executives came in June, according to campaign-finance disclosure reports. None of the three contributors — Scott Schroeder, Mark Staublin and Jack Aiello — had previously given to Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, state election board records show.

A Garrett spokeswoman says “there’s no correlation whatsoever” between the company’s expansion plans at Midway and the contributions to the mayor from the executives.

For nearly 10 years, the Chicago-based popcorn store chain has been at O’Hare Airport, first landing there in then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

The two new locations scheduled to open next year with clearance from Emanuel’s City Hall will be the first Garrett Popcorn Shops at Midway.

Three $5,000 checks from the Garrett executives popped into the second-term mayor’s campaign fund after a much-larger influx of campaign cash from other restaurateurs also benefiting from the lucrative Midway concessions deal.

Three brands from Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You empire are among the new restaurants at Midway under the deal between the Emanuel administration and the winning bidders for the concessions contract.

I reported in March that the Chicago for Rahm Emanuel political fund got $86,200 from members of the Melman family, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. and many of its restaurants. Most of that money from Lettuce Entertain You was contributed to Emanuel on Feb. 28, less than a week after the Midway deal got final approval from the City Council.

The contributions to Emanuel from the new Midway restaurants and shops aren’t covered by an executive order the mayor signed on the first day he took office in 2011. He vowed not to take contributions from companies that do business with the city.

The executive order doesn’t prohibit campaign contributions from these businesses at Midway — even though they make tens of millions of dollars a year by getting to open shop at Chicago’s No. 2 airport.

Technically, Emanuel aides have pointed out, the brands that go into business there do not have contracts with the city.

Emanuel could close this gaping loophole if he truly wanted to do everything possible to dispel the perception of pay-to-play politics at City Hall.

In addition to the money from the Garrett executives, the quarterly campaign-finance report filed by Emanuel’s committee last month disclosed new contributions from embattled drug-company executive Jeffrey Aronin and his wife.

Aronin founded Northbrook-based Marathon Pharmaceuticals, which drew heavy criticism for planning to charge $89,000 for an annual dosage of a new muscular dystrophy drug.

The situation prompted the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America to review Marathon’s membership.

“Their recent actions are not consistent with the mission of our organization,” the trade group’s president and chief executive, Stephen Ubl, said in February.

Marathon soon pulled out of the trade group, whose local members include North Chicago-based AbbVie and Astella Pharma US Inc. of Northbrook.

Aronin’s money still is good at Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, though. On June 27, the mayor’s campaign accepted $4,100 from Aronin and another $5,600 from his wife, Lisa.

A spokesman for Aronin said he left Marathon in the spring and Marathon has sold the drug to another company.

Aronin spokesman Dennis Culloton said, “Mr. Aronin ushered this drug, Emflaza, through an arduous approval process. It’s now helping more than a thousand children, will help thousands more, is being covered by insurance and is a big success. It has nothing to do with campaign contributions.”

Emanuel is a nationally renowned fundraiser. He spent a record amount of campaign cash to get through a runoff battle in 2015.

Judging by how eager he is to take any political contributions he can get these days, the mayor must think he could need every bit as much as he used last time if he’s to win four more years in 2019.

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