Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tried to avoid taking sides in the Springfield budget stalemate, but a big bucks advertising campaign targeting House Speaker Michael Madigan is apparently forcing Emanuel off the fence.
One day after a campaign committee bankrolled by rookie Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and billionaire businessman Sam Zell hit the airwaves with the first wave of anti-Madigan ads, Emanuel rose to the defense of his fellow Democrat.
It happened, somewhat ironically, after Emanuel made a joint appearance on child care issues with Rauner’s wife, Diana, who runs the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an educational advocacy group.
“Speaker Madigan believes firmly in his principles and believes firmly in fighting for those principles. I don’t think there should be any attack on character,” the mayor said.
“In politics, dialogue and trust are essential. Any time you break that up, you make coming to terms harder.”
RELATED: Rauner launches TV campaign to push through his agenda Madigan: Rauner ad blitz ‘takes us to the extreme’ Brown: Rauner opts for ads over dragons in Illinois game of thrones
Emanuel said he’s been through “government shutdowns” and budget agreements as a political operative to one president and White House chief of staff to another. He’s also won City Council approval of four Chicago budgets.
All of those experiences have taught him a valuable lesson about the art of crafting a political deal: It’s got to be a “win-win” for both sides.
“How do you create a context for people to make compromises so that people see there’s enough victory? Nobody is going to sign on to something where they lose and you win. And you’re not gonna sign onto something where I win and you lose,” Emanuel said.
“All of us have a role to play in creating a context where everybody has enough wins where they think that agreement is something that they are for because they see enough progress for the things that they care about.”
Last month, the Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly lifted the financial hammer hanging over Chicago taxpayers: a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pension funds.
Lawmakers approved a bill that would give the city 15 more years to ramp up to 90-percent funding levels for the two funds.
Chicago taxpayers would still be on the hook for $619 million in payments to the two funds next year—more than double the current payment. But that’s still $219 million less than the city would have been forced to pay and an $843 million break over the next five years.
The pension reform bill is now caught up in the state budget stalemate over Rauner’s demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms that seems to be intensifying by the day.
So is Emanuel’s request for an elusive, city-owned Chicago casino with all of the revenues devoted exclusively to police and fire pension.
The General Assembly hasn’t even entertained the issue of teacher pension reform and Emanuel’s demand that the state end what he calls the “dual taxation” that forces Chicago taxpayers to pay twice—for the pensions of city teachers and for teachers outside the city.
The longer the stalemate drags on, the longer Emanuel will have to wait for help for his needy city. And the longer Chicago will be saddled with the junk bond status that has already cost taxpayers tens of millions in penalties and higher interest rates.
On Tuesday, Emanuel wasn’t ready to pull the plug and go it alone. He was still holding out hope for a Springfield compromise.
“Everybody should just lower the temperature and keep the conversation and the dialogue and the space for that conversation and dialogue, then create an ability for people to make the necessary compromises for people to reach an agreement that advances the city and the state’s interests,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said the Blackhawks’ third Stanley Cup championship in six years holds a lesson for his friend, Rauner and for Democratic legislative leaders.
“We have one state, one goal. The Blackhawks message was, `One Goal.’ One goal and being focussed on it like a team,” the mayor said.
The first wave of anti-Madigan ads launched with an $826,000 statewide buy.
Titled, “Crossroads,” it names Madigan and says of Democrats, “All they want is higher taxes. Again.” Rauner’s own voicecloses the ad, saying, “Change in Springfield isn’t easy — but you didn’t send me here to do what’s easy.”
They’re bankrolled by Turnaround Illinois, an independent expenditure committee whose only donors are Zell, who contributed $4 million in April and Rauner,who donated $250,000.
The fact that halfof the ads will be running Downstate — even though “marginal legislative seats” are located in the Chicago area — has led some political observers to conclude the ads are more about rehabilitating Rauner than targeting Madigan.
Sources said several recent union polls have shown Rauner’s popularity in the mid-to-high 30’s, a surprisingly low number for a newly-elected governor.