The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus is purging himself of a surprise, $20,000 contribution from Mayor Rahm Emanuel amid concern that it might damage his chances of winning re-election.
Instead of keeping the money and putting the windfall into his campaign fund, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) is distributing the mayor’s check — in $2,000 increments –– to ten community organizations and other groups in his ward that are working to stop the never-ending cycle of gang violence and train people for jobs.
Those groups include: Antonio’s Response; P.E.A.C.E. Center; Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE); Think Outside Da Block; Latanya and the Youth Of Englewood; My Block, My Hood, My City; Breaking Bread; Robert’s House; Ex-Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC); and Replace Guns with Hammers.
The son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer was one of more than two dozen aldermen to receive a $20,000 check from the mayor.
The alderman said he appreciated the mayor’s gesture and means no disrespect.
But he was concerned about how the mayoral contribution would have been perceived by voters in his South Side ward who have not forgiven Emanuel for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“The reality is, my ward is 98 percent black and some of my constituents don’t really have a super favorable opinion of Rahm Emanuel. We looked at that…and thought the best use of these funds were to support organizations in need of funding,” Sawyer said.
“I talked to my community organizations and asked them, ‘What’s the best way to use this type of money?’ This is what they came up with. Are there political optics there? Sure there are. But…I’m not afraid to say I’ve worked with the mayor — not for the mayor on a number of initiatives that have gone through City Council. Sometimes, they were contentious. But what we’ve done is worked on a lot of good initiatives that benefit the city for the long run.”
Jay Rowell, campaign manager for Emanuel’s now-dismantling re-election campaign, refused to comment on Sawyer’s decision to give away the mayor’s money.
The mayor has promised to spend his money and his time helping aldermen who have taken a series of tough votes to help him, just begin to solve Chicago’s $28 billion pension crisis.
Earlier this week, millennial activists who spent three years demanding justice for the murder of McDonald set their sights on what they called a “complicit” City Council and urged younger voters notorious for their political indifference to get involved.
They were particularly determined to target African-American aldermen, who were harshly criticized for signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of McDonald — even without a lawsuit being filed — without asking tough enough questions or seeing the incendiary shooting video.
Sawyer has emphatically denied participating in a cover-up. He has argued that it made sense to “settle that case fast because that $5 million settlement could have been a $50 million verdict—or even worse.”
“If people think there’s a better way to do that without putting the city into bankruptcy, please let me know,” he said.
On Friday, Sawyer had some sage advice for millennial activists determined to turn their street activism into a political juggernaut that could change the face of the City Council.
“If they are fortunate enough to be on the City Council, they’re gonna have to work with whoever the mayor is. They can’t let personalities dictate how they’re gonna legislate. That’s maybe a lesson they need to learn,” he said.
“Mayor Emanuel and I did battle when I first came in. But I got to deal with him on a personal level and there became a healthy respect towards one another. We’re not going out to have beer together. But we…found a way to work collaboratively on things that will benefit the city of Chicago in the long run. These are the lessons that should be learned. You have to work with whoever is there.”
Sawyer’s partnership with Emanuel is paying dividends for the impoverished-but-rebounding Englewood community.
Chicago’s longtime fleet maintenance facility –– located on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Industrial corridor –– is being rebuilt on a vacant 12.5-acre site at 210 W. 69th St. that once housed Kennedy-King College.