Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a corner on campaign contributions from the entertainment industry where his brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, wields enormous influence.
But there is at least one famous actor who has lined up behind mayoral challenger Paul Vallas.
Two-time Academy Award-winner Sean Penn has contributed $5,000 to the Vallas campaign stemming from their humanitarian relief work together after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 230,000 people.
Vallas was working on education reform in Haiti after the devastating earthquake when he was introduced to Penn and invited to join the board of JP/HRO. That’s a Haitian-run nonprofit created by the Oscar-winning actor known for his political and social activism.
The organization cared for 60,000 displaced Haitians over a three-year period that followed the earthquake and a subsequent outbreak of cholera.
“He knew somebody who knew my education work in Haiti and [that person] connected both of us. Sean asked me to come and visit the camp and talk to him and his people about how to build a functioning school system in the camp. I visited the camp and I spent time with him. Then he asked me to become one of his board members. I’m finance chair,” Vallas said Monday.
Vallas said the Sean Penn he knows is “way more Haiti than Hollywood” and a truly “heroic figure.”
“Sean literally made very few movies and basically almost abandoned his career because he totally committed himself. He was spending 70 or 80 percent of his time … living in the camp with other international workers. He has spent time and fortune helping raise money for Haiti and providing services to the Haitians,” Vallas said.
“This is an extraordinary organization that literally housed, fed and provided medical attention to 60,000 Haitians. He built a hospital down there, a clinic. He built a whole school district down there. And the [organization] is almost completely Haitian run.”
Vallas said he overcame the fear of flying that hampered his failed 2002 campaign for governor against the now-convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to make 30 to 40 relief trips to Haiti.
“I spent months on end down in Haiti working over a number of years. That’s how I hooked up with him. So, he just sent me a contribution,” Vallas said.
“I don’t know if it means anything or if it’s opening any doors for me. But he gave me a modest contribution. … Sean is a guy who not only puts his money where his mouth is, but also his time and effort on the ground. I am very honored he has decided to contribute to my campaign.”
Vallas was asked whether Penn has introduced him to any other “Hollywood types.”
“No, no, no. And I haven’t asked him to,” Vallas said.
In early March, Emanuel raked in $112,500 in just one day, thanks, in large part, to two trade unions and heavyweights in the entertainment industry, thanks to Ari Emanuel’s connections.
The Hollywood star power came from: HBO writer Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld” fame ($5,000); STARZ executive Christopher Albrecht ($5,600); David Pecker, chairman of American Media ($5,600); Cynthia Pett-Dante, co-president of Brillstein Entertainment ($5,600); Michael Lombardo, producer of Film 44 ($5,600); Tom Rothman, chairman of the motion picture group for Sony Pictures Entertainment ($5,000); Nancy Dubuc of A&E Networks ($5,000); Jeffrey Ross, executive producer for Conaco ($2,000), and Universal Film Chairman Jeff Shell ($1,000).
Late Friday, Emanuel reported another $853,100 in contributions, leaving his campaign fund with roughly $7.4 million.
The fundraising drop was yet another sign of Emanuel’s determination to prove to his field of nine challengers — with County Commissioner Bridget Gainer considering becoming the tenth — that nobody will have more money than the embattled incumbent.
Still, Vallas said when quarterly reports are due on June 30, they’ll show that he will have enough money to compete with Emanuel, whose fundraising Rolodex has long been the envy of Democrats across the nation.
“He’s trying to–not so much scare people out of the race, but intimidate people from contributing to” his challengers, Vallas said.
“He’s gonna raise a lot of money, but I don’t think money is gonna really make the difference. I’ll raise enough to be competitive. I’m pretty confident of that. And no matter how much money you raise, it’s not gonna hide the fact that your record has been a disaster.”