Taxicab industry forms PAC to fight rideshare, swing elections

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The high-stakes competition between ride-sharing companies and taxicabs is already a full employment program for clout-heavy lobbyists. 

It’s about to become a major source of campaign cash. 

The Illinois Transportation Trade Association, a trade group representing the taxicab industry, has formed a political action committee with an annual budget of $1 million and $200,000 raised in just the first few days.

Mara Georges, former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s corporation counsel, is the spokesperson. Senior advisers are Daley’s political enforcer Victor Reyes, the former Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO) chieftain, and Mike Noonan, a former political operative for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Reyes said the regulatory vacuum that has allowed ride-sharing companies to siphon business from taxicabs — and legislative battles in Springfield and Chicago to fill that void — have taught the taxicab industry a valuable lesson: It needs to be “politically present” when decisions are made.

“It’s very difficult for aldermen to raise money,” Reyes said, adding that “$1 million could help a lot of elected officials. It could be the margin between winning and losing an election. This $1 million could make the taxi industry PAC the largest political PAC available after the administration money and the union money,” Reyes said, referring to the large pot of money in Emanuel’s campaign coffer and organized labor’s ability to make big contributions.

“What the industry would like is to have a vote delayed on the local ordinance [championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel] to see if the governor signs the bill” that imposes even stricter regulations on the ride-sharing industry.

In 2006, the City Council voted 35-14 to require Wal-Mart and other “big box” retailing giants to pay their employees at least $13-an-hour in wages and benefits by 2010. Six weeks later, Daley vetoed the ordinance spawned by Wal-Mart’s entry into the Chicago market and made it stick by winning three crossover votes. That prompted organized labor to spend millions to elect a more union-friendly Council.

“The unions spent $5 million and elected five aldermen. I don’t think that’s a good return on investment. The reason Noonan and I are advising the PAC is to get a much bigger return. We know politics,” Reyes said. 

Georges added, “It’s the first time the transportation industry has come together and said, `We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. It’s spurred by a very obvious lack of appreciation for the importance of the taxicab and limousine industry and the fact it’s an economic driver.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, said he was “sympathetic” to the taxicab industry long before he knew it had a PAC that would be making campaign contributions to friendly aldermen.

“The hard-working cabdrivers are out here every day working long hours trying to make ends meet. Then, you have someone who comes in with an electronic app and tries to undermine them and put them out of business. That is my concern,” he said.

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