Unions dream of left-wing challenger to Rahm

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Where have you gone, Chicago’s Bill de Blasio?

A nation — or at least the left-leaning activists of this one big city — is eager to turn its lonely eyes to someone who can take on the Chicago mayor whom lefties deride as “Mayor 1%” and the quintessential DINO (Democrat in Name Only).

Now that he’s taken office as New York City’s mayor, we soon could learn if de Blasio is really as liberal as many of his admirers hope. Meanwhile, all the talk from the East Coast about combating income inequality, reining in charter-school expansion and other leftist issues has warmed Chicago lefties who see de Blasio as the sort of mayor this city needs instead of Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel and City Council members here aren’t up for re-election until 2015. But the biggest question in Illinois politics in the coming year — other than the outcome of the governor’s race — also will be answered long before 2014 ends.

Will the mayor’s low public-approval ratings translate into a serious challenge to Emanuel in 2015?

Given how content corporate Chicago and well-heeled lakefront liberals seem with Emanuel’s first term, the only way to attack him would appear to be from the left.

There was plenty of carping again this year across Chicago about the cost-cutting moves Emanuel’s administration has made, especially the shuttering of 50 public schools.

There are three labor groups — the police union, the teachers union and the service employees union — whose leaders have been the loudest critics of the mayor, pining openly for someone to try to unseat Emanuel in the 2015 election. 

For now, let’s put aside the not-so-little matter of who exactly would be Chicago’s de Blasio and just consider what each of those three groups might bring to a mayoral fight.

The Fraternal Order of Police Local 7 endorsed and gave some money to Gery Chico’s mayoral campaign in 2011. It made little difference then, and the FOP is even less likely to have any significant impact four years later. The organization’s leadership is in total chaos after the state FOP recently moved to oust Local 7 President Mike Shields, a frequent and merciless mayoral critic.

The one labor leader who’s perhaps almost as reviled as Shields in the mayor’s office is the Chicago Teachers Union leader, Karen Lewis.

She has made the most direct threats to Emanuel’s political future. Nearly eight months ago, Lewis vowed to recruit a challenger to Emanuel, register 100,000 new voters and increase political fundraising by the CTU.

The CTU’s recruitment drive appears confined so far to just hoping that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle decides to run against Emanuel — which she says she won’t do.

The union has held some training sessions for volunteers, with 111 new CTU voter registrars joining the ranks, and another session is scheduled for next week, according to the Cook County clerk’s office. Still, there’s no sign that the teachers union has signed up anywhere close to 100,000 new voters.

And the CTU’s political bankroll of about $400,000 as of the end of September was less than 1/10th the size of the mayor’s $5.1 million campaign fund. That disparity has grown even larger in 2013’s final months.

That leaves the Service Employees International Union, which became the biggest spender in state politics in the last decade. Large chunks of that money have gone to Gov. Pat Quinn and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but SEIU’s best known and most expensive efforts at City Hall involved unseating some council allies of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2007.

If SEIU leaders fell out with Daley eventually, they seem to harbor much deeper disdain for Emanuel.

Just check out the Facebook page of SEIU’s top political operative, Jerry Morrison. Among the many times he has railed against the mayor was in August, when the city set up “Operation Safe Passage” routes for kids displaced by the school closures to get to their new classrooms.  

“This man is incapable of governing,” Morrison wrote. “I would be happy to send him back to the U.S. Congress where he could do no harm.”

Then, on Dec. 16, Morrison wrote that the Democratic Party was splitting nationally, with Emanuel and Hillary Clinton on one side and de Blasio and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the other.

By the end of 2014, we will know whether the self-styled real Democrats of Chicago can transform such rhetoric into action. Before there can be a Chicago incarnation of de Blasio, one or all three of the big anti-Rahm labor groups could have to convert public discontent with Emanuel into the actual political muscle that would support a legitimate challenger, whoever that may be.

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