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Jeremiah Joyce Jr. for mayor? Son of 19th Ward power broker might challenge Rahm

Jeremiah Joyce Sr., left, with his lobbyist Dick Devine, the former Cook County state's attorney, speaking to the Chicago City Council's Aviation Committee in July 2011. | Photo courtesy of Bill Cameron, WLS AM890.

A son and namesake of one of Chicago’s most calculating political operatives is preparing to gather signatures to join the crowded race for mayor against incumbent Rahm Emanuel.

Jeremiah Joyce Jr., a Yale-educated lawyer and former Cook County assistant state’s attorney, has told associates that his decision to explore a bid for mayor has nothing to do with a lucrative O’Hare Airport concessions contract that Emanuel stripped away from his father.

Privately, Joyce Jr. simply claims he has “run the numbers” and concluded that Emanuel can’t win, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times. In a fractured field where it’s all about getting into the runoff, Joyce Jr. firmly believes he has as good a chance as anybody to put together a multiracial coalition of supporters given his family’s political network.

If he ends up in the crowded mayoral field, Joyce Jr. plans to sell himself as the “law-and-order” candidate in a field that also includes fired Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, sources said.

Jeremiah Joyce Sr. — a former alderman-turned-state senator from the 19th Ward on the Southwest Side — was known as a cutthroat political operative for former Mayor Richard M. Daley. In some circles, he was described as “Daley’s brain.”

Joyce’s son, Kevin, is a former state representative who now lives in Florida. Dan Joyce, another son, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for selling cocaine after agreeing to testify against drug kingpin John Cappas.

Son Mike Joyce is an attorney who is married to Muhammad Ali’s daughter. Mike Joyce played a pivotal role in Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 2015 campaign for mayor against Emanuel.

Jeremiah Joyce Jr. has an ice cream concessions business at Navy Pier awarded under Daley. He’s also worked as a lobbyist.

Jeremiah Joyce Jr. in 2006. | Illinois lobbyist registration database photo
Jeremiah Joyce Jr. in 2006. | Illinois lobbyist registration database photo

On Monday night — the day before mayoral candidates can start circulating nominating petitions — Joyce Jr. was set to hold a petition-circulating kickoff party at a bar in the 19th Ward. Joyce Jr. could not be reached for comment.

For much of the Daley administration, international terminal concessions were controlled by Chicago Aviation Partners, a partnership between Duty Free International and McDonald’s that included Joyce Sr. as a part owner and paid consultant.

The contract expired in 2003. It was extended on a month-to-month basis until Emanuel took office, as the city tried three times to open the lucrative business to competition — and lobbyists lined up on all sides.

Replacing Chicago Aviation Partners was the first big test of Emanuel’s City Council muscle. By a vote of 45-to-3, aldermen approved a 20-year contract with Westfield Concession Management after a rare public appeal from Joyce Sr. to hang onto the deal.

Chicago Aviation Partners then filed a lawsuit contending that the award to Westfield was the product of a “sham evaluation process” that would deprive O’Hare of $120 million because the company was not the highest bidder. The city won the case.

Time will tell whether Joyce Jr. actually files for mayor—or whether the signatures he gathers are used as leverage to cut the best possible deal with another candidate.

If Joyce Jr. does end up joining the race, it wouldn’t take more than a few percentage points to have an impact.

He’s likely to draw votes away from both McCarthy and Paul Vallas, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO who is a former longtime resident of Beverly.

But Joyce Jr. could also siphon votes away from Emanuel, who captured 59 percent of the 19,828 total votes cast in the 19th Ward, even with Mike Joyce orchestrating the Garcia campaign.

Emanuel recently chose Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) to chair the City Council’s Aviation Committee in a move widely viewed as belated political payback for the pivotal role that O’Shea played in helping Emanuel survive the 2015 mayoral run-off.

Between the first and second rounds of that mayoral sweepstakes, Emanuel boosted his support among white voters by 11.25 percentage points.

The increase was fueled by Emanuel’s showing in O’Shea’s 19th Ward.

In a post-runoff interview, O’Shea said his ward had a 56 percent turnout — well above the citywide 40 percent — and Emanuel carried 56 of 57 precincts because he was good to the 19th Ward.

A veteran political operative, who asked to remain anonymous, argued Joyce Jr. could make a difference.

“Emanuel won by eight points over Chuy. The race is going to be super-close or Rahm could lose,” the operative said.

“Any new player who impacts, even one or two percentage points could tip the scales. It’s not a huge impact. But you don’t need a huge impact to make a difference.”

Vallas and Joyce Sr. could not be reached for comment. Sources said the elder Joyce views Vallas as “strange” and that “there is no great relationship there” in spite of their shared 19th Ward roots.