Rahm Emanuel was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton’s latest bid for the White House, but Clinton hasn’t convinced even some of the mayor’s allies here that she can win the presidency this year.
A couple of major players with deep ties to Emanuel have thrown their support instead to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Former Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes is O’Malley’s campaign chairman in this state. Hynes endorsed Emanuel in his first campaign for mayor, showing him around his native Southwest Side at a time when the former White House chief of staff and congressman had few good friends in Chicago outside of his old North Side district.
O’Malley’s fundraising chairman in Illinois is Michael Forde, who was part of the high-powered legal team that helped Emanuel fight off a challenge to his residency status and stay on the 2011 mayoral ballot.
Forde continues to serve Emanuel as chairman of the Illinois International Port District, the agency that operates the Port of Chicago. Forde also has advised Chicago Forward, the political action committee that aided Emanuel’s re-election bid and funded the mayor’s endorsed candidates in City Council races earlier this year.
While Clinton’s strongest competitor for the Democratic nomination — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — spoke to a big crowd at his alma mater, the University of Chicago, on Monday, O’Malley quietly passed through town this week for two fundraisers.
Munum “Manny” Naeem, a United Airlines vice president, held an event for O’Malley in Naperville on Sunday evening, and there was a breakfast fundraiser Monday at the home of David Korman, the chief legal officer for the Guggenheim Partners financial services firm.
Other local contributors to O’Malley include John W. Rogers Jr., the investor who was a major backer of President Barack Obama, and real estate developer Sean Conlon, according to federal campaign finance records.
O’Malley is little known compared to the other contenders, polling at just about 2 percent nationally. Yet, he and his supporters here say he’s positioned himself well to capitalize on what seems to be the quadrennial collapse of the early Democratic presidential favorites.
“The inevitable front-runner is inevitable only until the first contest,” O’Malley told me.
In a swipe at Sanders, O’Malley says, “I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’m not a former socialist. I’m not a former independent. I’m the only candidate in this race who has 15 years of executive experience.”
O’Malley was the mayor of Baltimore from 1999 until he became governor in 2007. Term limits forced him to leave office at the end of his second term, in January.
In 2012, O’Malley signed legislation allowing gay marriage and Maryland’s version of the “Dream Act,” which provides in-state college tuition discounts for undocumented immigrants. The following year, he signed a repeal of the death penalty for future offenders.
Those actions put O’Malley “ahead of the curve” on important issues to Democratic voters, Forde says.
O’Malley’s supporters hope he emerges as the fresh new face voters could be craving. O’Malley, 52, is far younger than Clinton, Sanders or Vice President Joseph Biden, who reportedly is considering running for president.
“I have enormous respect for Hillary, but she’s been in national politics for 25 years,” said Forde, who’s 43 and says he cast his first vote for president for Bill Clinton in 1992. “I think Gov. O’Malley really represents a new generation of leadership.”
Hynes says his father — Tom Hynes, the former Cook County assessor, Illinois Senate president and 19th Ward Democratic boss — is undecided. But Dan Hynes thinks he has a pretty good track record at picking winners at the highest level, since he was the first elected official in the country to publicly urge Obama to run for president, in 2006.
His next task is to recruit a slate of Illinois delegates for the candidate.
“I think it will be an opportunity for Democratic activists to get in on the ground floor of what I think will be a successful campaign,” Hynes says.
Forde says he hasn’t talked with Emanuel about the presidential race.
The mayor may not mind now. That could change if Clinton has not yet clinched the nomination and O’Malley remains in the race when the time comes for next spring’s Illinois presidential primary.