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In blow to Preckwinkle, Federation of Labor stays neutral in mayoral runoff

Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle, shown at their election night parties on Feb. 26. | Sun-Times photos

The Chicago Federation of Labor decided Monday to remain neutral in the historic April 2 mayoral runoff in a move likely to be seen as a boon to Lori Lightfoot and a major blow to Toni Preckwinkle.

“Something different may have happened if we had this meeting two weeks from now. But we’re not. Today was the day . . . Our representative body that makes this decision isn’t scheduled to meet again during this election cycle,” said federation president Bob Reiter. The federation has an ownership stake in Sun-­Times Media.

“There weren’t enough people who felt like they could make a different decision today other than to maintain the position of neutrality. It doesn’t mean that people won’t take positions within their own locals. But the collective position was to maintain neutrality.”

Preckwinkle already has support from the Chicago Teachers Union, Service Employees International Union Locals 1 and 73 and SEIU Health Care, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881 and Teamsters Local 700. (SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare also have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media.)

But Preckwinkle desperately needed to consolidate the rest of the labor movement behind her candidacy to stand a chance of overcoming the momentum generated by Lightfoot’s stunning first place finish in the field of fourteen.

She had hoped to start with the CFL, an umbrella organization that includes roughly 300 unions.

On Monday, the CFL met with and questioned both candidates and discovered little difference between their positions on labor issues.

So it came down to whether either Preckwinkle or Lightfoot could meet the very high threshold of winning a two-thirds vote on a day when a new poll shows Lightfoot on a path toward a landslide victory.

Although Preckwinkle went into Monday’s meeting with a decent shot at nailing down the CFL endorsement, she didn’t get it.

“This is more about process than it is anything else. Literally, the election was seven days ago. To make a quick turnaround on a decision like endorsing in the mayor’s race — that was hard for folks,” Reiter said.

“It’s not just CTU, the SEIU and the Operating Engineers . . . We have 300 unions. This is a massive body . . . We’re not monolithic. They probably want to sit down and talk to the candidates and get their positions on what their union is facing here in the city. That takes time. Why would anybody who hasn’t had that sit-down with any candidate want to take that position ahead of knowing how the candidates are gonna view them?”

Sources said IBEW Local 134 and Operating Engineers Local 399 are leaning toward endorsing Preckwinkle.

Laborers Unions that provided heavy support to Susana Mendoza in Round One are leaning toward Lightfoot. So is Local 9 of the Electricians Union.

Operating Engineers Local 150 — another union with a Sun-Times Media ownership stake — will either endorse Lightfoot or remain neutral, sources said. That union has ties to a dark-money PAC that spent $1.2 million to blanket the television airwaves with ads blasting Bill Daley as “Bruce Rauner’s mayor” and as a “Wall Street banker who got rich off working people.”

“I think the people who had that relationship with Toni will end up endorsing her. I don’t know that for sure. But I hear there’s people moving in her direction,” Reiter said.

Reiter acknowledged Preckwinkle would have stood a better chance of consolidating labor support had she been in a runoff with Daley.

That’s because Daley stood alone among mayoral candidates in proposing a constitutional amendment to soften the so-called pension protection clause that says those benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired.”

“It would have been a clearer choice ideologically between the two,” Reiter said.

Preckwinkle’s campaign manager, Jesse Neves, took the CFL slight in stride.

“Toni Preckwinkle has fought for Chicago’s workers and is proud to have the endorsements of teachers, janitors, bus drivers, child care providers, food service workers and more,” Neves was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Unlike corporate lawyer Lori Lightfoot, who has given her campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars, Toni is relying on grassroots support from all over Chicago. Lori Lightfoot is no friend to Chicago’s working men and women, a point she made clear in a recent interview with Crain’s, and she is the wrong choice for Chicago.”

Lightfoot said CFL neutrality is the best she could hope for.

“It’s important that we have an opportunity to bring our message of change to the entire city. This clearly will allow for that to happen. So I’m grateful,” Lightfoot said Monday.

“The politics of it will be what it will be. What’s most important to me is to have an opportunity to make the case for working families who members of the CFL represent.”

As for the support from the Laborers and Electricians, Lightfoot said, “I’m not counting my chickens before they’re hatched.”