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Labor, Mike Quigley and Gery Chico all eyeing Chicago mayoral race

Gery Chico, left, at a news conference announcing his appointment as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education in 2011. (AP File Photo/M. Spencer Green); Rep. Mike Quigley, right, meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2017. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago labor leaders resolved Thursday to temporarily avoid choosing sides in the mayoral race in hopes of uniting later behind a single candidate, even as another pair of potential contenders raised their hands more earnestly.

In interviews with the Sun-Times, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley and 2011 mayoral candidate Gery Chico clarified that they are interested in replacing Rahm Emanuel as the city’s chief executive.

Quigley said he is “contemplating” a run.

“Who wouldn’t be interested in being mayor of Chicago?” Quigley said.

Chico, who served as chief of staff to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, said he is considering a second campaign for the job.

“I’m not in yet, but I’m strongly considering, and I should know in a few days,” Chico said. “I’m very pleased about the encouragement I’m getting so far … the pieces of the puzzle are already falling into place.”

As the field of potential candidates continued to swell in the wake of Emanuel’s surprise announcement that he won’t seek a third term, the executive board of the Chicago Federation of Labor conducted a special meeting to discuss its strategy for 2019.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Robert Reiter said those in attendance agreed to “sit tight and wait” for now until they see which candidates join the race and prove they’re “viable.”

“This is a rare opportunity to get the labor movement behind one mayoral candidate,” he said. “I really do think we have a shot at doing it this time.”

Robert Reiter, then secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks during a special meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2017. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Robert Reiter, then secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, speaks during a special meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2017. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In the past, it has proven difficult to unite the various sectors of labor — building trades, services, industrial and public sector — which sometimes have different agendas.

Reiter said he plans to send a letter to all the federation’s affiliate unions to advise them of the executive board’s position — in hopes they also will refrain from making early commitments.

Reiter said only one union indicated it is already leaning toward a particular candidate.

Other sources identified that union as Service Employees International Union Local 1, which has been a big supporter of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is among those exploring a mayoral run. The union is currently conducting a poll on Preckwinkle’s behalf to help her make her decision.

Reiter is a member of the board of directors of the ownership group of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Chicago Federation of Labor and SEIU Local 1 are among the unions that have a stake in the newspaper.

It may take a while for the field to shake out as the list of candidates testing the water grows daily.

Quigley said he “loves” his current job in Congress with his two important committee assignments: on Appropriations, where he serves as a point person in the House for Chicago funding requests; and on the Intelligence panel.

Quigley’s profile has grown in the past year as the Intelligence panel has probed Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, making Quigley a sought after guest on national news shows.

But Quigley, a North Sider who served 10 years on the Cook County Board before coming to Congress, also appreciates that the mayor’s job doesn’t come open often.

“I am focusing on [what] we need to do and why the city is at a crossroad,” Quigley said. “And who can present a detailed, footnoted plan that moves the city forward in extraordinarily difficult times.”

Chico finished second in the 2011 mayoral race with 24 percent of the vote to Emanuel’s 55 percent.

He served as Daley’s chief of staff from 1992 to 1995, then did stints as Chicago Public Schools board president from 1995 to 2001 and Chicago Park District board president from 2007 to 2010.

His lengthy resume also includes serving as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education and City Colleges of Chicago.

Chico said he believes Chicago’s “best days are ahead of it.” Should he run, he said, he would focus on lowering crime, continued investment in schools and making sure the city isn’t just a draw for tourists, but also for international corporate development.

“With my experiences I think I know what it takes,” Chico said. “And I know I can do it.”