The first challenger to Rahm Emanuel’s iron grip on the mayor’s office dared to step into the spotlight Thursday.
And aldermen laughed at him.
That’s because Robert Shaw is himself a former city alderman and Cook County commissioner on the Board of Review with a colorful and questionable past. It wasn’t even widely known he had moved back to Chicago after nearly 15 years in the south suburbs.
“He’s gonna run for mayor in Blue Island or somewhere?” said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th). “Nah. I thought he lived in Dolton [or] South Holland.”
In fact, Shaw said he moved to the Hyde Park-Kenwood area in December. Now he’s declared himself a candidate for mayor in 2015. And he said anyone else who jumps in the race is simply splitting the anti-Emanuel vote.
He railed against Emanuel at a news conference at the Chicago South Loop Hotel for closing an “outrageous” number of public schools while nickel-and-diming Chicagoans with speed cameras and high water rates.
“The rate he’s going, in another three years, you can’t take no baths, with this guy,” Shaw said. “You can go and jump in the lake, but that’s about all you can do.”
The first-term mayor Shaw wants to challenge, meanwhile, refused to comment directly on Shaw’s announcement. He cautioned reporters Chicago is still in the midst of “governing season.”
“There will be a campaign season,” Emanuel said. “We’re in the governing season. And the best way to get ready for the campaign season is do your job in your governing season.”
Some aldermen who remember Shaw’s days on the City Council, though, laughed out loud when asked about his announcement.
“He’s not our choice,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), a longtime political rival. “He’s his own choice … He has absolutely not a chance.”
Shaw, 77, said he came to Chicago as an 8-year-old and didn’t leave until 1999. He was Mayor Jane M. Byrne’s chief ally in the African-American community in the early 1980s. But his support of Byrne over Harold Washington in the 1983 Democratic mayoral primary cost him re-election that year. He reinvented himself as a Washington supporter in 1987 and recaptured the seat.
Even though Washington once dismissed Shaw as a “two-bit hustler,” Shaw supported adding a fifth star to the Chicago flag to honor Washington, the city’s first black mayor, after his death.
Shaw once led a movement to scrap the city seal for perceived racial undertones. That’s because records said the ship in the seal symbolizes “the approach of white man’s civilization and commerce.”
He sought a crack-down on “women of the morning” after he claimed he was solicited by two prostitutes, and he marched out to Oak Lawn seeking a censure for a village trustee who said blacks don’t belong in the southwest suburb if they can’t afford to live there.
Shaw was an ally of then Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th), who recently returned from prison, and he was a regular sponsor of aldermanic pay raises.
More recently, Shaw landed a $70,000 contract in 2006 to become Dolton’s first inspector general while his late twin brother, William Shaw, was mayor. The Better Government Association derided the deal as a “joke.”
“I’m not going to resurrect the dead,” Robert Shaw said when asked about his political baggage Thursday. “I’m not Jesus.”
But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — not Shaw — is the candidate City Hall truly fears. She refused to say earlier this week whether she will challenge Emanuel next year.
Thursday, Shaw resisted attempts to be cast as a spoiler in an Emanuel-Preckwinkle showdown. He told reporters he wouldn’t ask her to bow out.
“She’s an adult,” Shaw said, adding “I can’t tell her what to do.”