Who’s-who of women in Chicago politics pack fundraiser for Lightfoot PAC

Aldermen who voted with Mayor Rahm Emanuel got support from a super PAC created to re-elect Emanuel and boost his City Council majority. Now, Lightfoot is following suit — and will have plenty of money to throw around.

SHARE Who’s-who of women in Chicago politics pack fundraiser for Lightfoot PAC
Lori Lightfoot on election night in April 2019.

A victorious Lori Lightfoot on election night in April. Like the man she replaced, Lightfoot has started a political action committee to boost both her reelection, and the chances of City Council members or candidates who will support her agenda.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot will have plenty of money in the bank to scare off opponents if her City Council majority should shrink when she tries to eliminate aldermanic prerogative over zoning or is forced to raise property taxes.

A who’s-who of 400 women in Chicago and Illinois government and politics turned out in force Tuesday for a fundraiser to benefit Light PAC, the political action committee created by the rookie mayor to benefit political candidates of her choosing.

The so-called “Women’s Spotlight” luncheon included a featured speaker: Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. Donors attending the luncheon filled a giant ballroom at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, facing a primary challenge by three Democratic opponents, could be seen working the crowd. Also in attendance were: Illinois First Lady M.K. Pritzker; Congresswoman Robin Kelly and a host of state lawmakers, including State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a candidate for Illinois Senate president supported by the mayor.

Reporters were asked to leave before Lightfoot and Whaley spoke, followed by a question-and-answer session moderated by Star Jones.

So much for the mayor’s campaign promise to “Bring in the Light.”

The final take was not immediately known. Going into the fundraiser, Light PAC already had recorded $120,000 in donations, including: $25,000 apiece from the Illinois Hotel-Motel PAC and the Chicago Regional Council or Carpenters PAC; $11,500 from former Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey; and $10,000 from the Chicago Federation of Labor.

The CFL has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

The luncheon was hosted by the mayor’s wife, Amy Eshleman, who recognized “emerging women leaders featured” at the luncheon.

Besides Dempsey, the host committee included: Leslie Bluhm, daughter of real estate and casino gambling magnate Neil Bluhm; Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts and her wife, Brooke; and former MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch.

Eshleman served as an assistant library commissioner under Dempsey and was credited with helping develop YOUmedia, a digital center for teenagers.

In 2005, Dempsey and Lightfoot worked together to clean up the Department of Procurement Services after the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals that cast a giant cloud over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

When aldermen walked the tax plank repeatedly to help former Mayor Rahm Emanuel chip away at Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis, Emanuel literally had their back.

They got tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Chicago Forward, a super PAC created to re-elect Emanuel and strengthen his City Council majority.

Last summer, Lightfoot followed in her predecessor’s footsteps by creating “Light PAC,” which shares office space at 100 W. Kinzie with Lightfoot for Chicago.

Dave Mellett, Lightfoot’s full-time political director, has said the new PAC was created to allow Lightfoot for Chicago to be used exclusively to re-elect the mayor.

All of Lightfoot’s other political activities will be paid for through “Light PAC,” where the fundraising ground rules are more liberal.

Political action committees can accept maximum donations of $10,800 from individuals and $23,200 from corporations, labor organizations, associations or political party committees. Other PACS or candidate political committees can donate $57,800.

In contrast, as a candidate political committee, Lightfoot for Chicago is limited to $5,800 from individuals and $11,600 from corporations, labor organizations and associations. The limit for candidate political committees or PACs is the same: $57,800.

“Light PAC will help support the mayor’s agenda and leaders who share her vision. We are still processing contributions and don’t have an exact amount raised yet,” Mellett wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Lightfoot raised $2.7 million during the second quarter of this year, spent $1.3 million and still had $1.8 million in cash on hand to scare off opponents of her ambitious legislative agenda.

The new mayor closed out the month of June with a flurry of fundraisers that allowed her to accept contributions in big chunks before fundraising caps lifted for the mayoral race were reinstated on July 1.

Since taking office May 20, Lightfoot has taken fundraising trips to Los Angeles and New York City with stops to have dinner with Oprah Winfrey and to appear on Stephen Colbert’s late-night talk show.

While headlining a Palm Springs fundraiser for former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s PAC in a town with an all-LGBTQ City Council, Lightfoot prospected for her own donors among California’s upscale gay community.

Those contacts are expected to pay off handsomely in the future for Chicago’s first openly gay mayor.

But Chicago’s movers-and-shakers have already lined up so squarely behind Lightfoot; it allowed the new mayor to repay, with interest, the $250,000 loan she made to her own campaign and still have a substantial war chest to play with.

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