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Ex-Rahm aide in race to replace Ald. Ameya Pawar as mayor’s alderman

Michael Negron, then Mayor Rahm Emanuel's policy chief, at center with Budget Director Alex Holt, huddling with aldermen in 2016.

Michael Negron, then Mayor Rahm Emanuel's policy chief, at center with Budget Director Alex Holt, huddling with aldermen in 2016. | Fran Spielman / Sun-Times

A former high-ranking aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel now is aiming to become Emanuel’s alderman.

Michael Negron — who was chief of policy in the mayor’s office for more than five years — has filed his candidacy papers to run for the Chicago City Council representing the 47th Ward, where Emanuel and his family live.

The treasurer of Negron’s aldermanic campaign in next year’s election? David Spielfogel — a former co-worker on the fifth floor of City Hall who was nicknamed “Mini-Rahm” because he was the mayor’s most trusted aide.

Spielfogel says Negron, 38, was the Emanuel administration’s point person on minimum-wage and affordable-housing initiatives. But he says he’s confident Negron would act independently of the mayor.

“He rose quickly not because he’s a yes man but because he’s smart and thoughtful,” Spielfogel says. “I have no doubt he will prioritize the 47th Ward over the fifth floor.”

Negron is one of many candidates already seeking to replace Ald. Ameya Pawar, who has announced he won’t run for a third term in the gentrified North Side ward, which includes parts of several neighborhoods — Lincoln Square, North Center, Roscoe Village, Ravenswood and Uptown.

Pawar says he probably won’t endorse anyone in the 2019 race to succeed him.

The list of would-be replacements includes:

• Social worker and abortion-rights activist Eileen Dordek, whose campaign raised $75,000 in the first three months of the year. Dordek’s contributors included another former top Emanuel aide, Beth Swanson, who gave food worth nearly $1,700 for a fund-raiser last month, according to campaign-finance reports.

• Matthew Martin, a civil rights lawyer in the Illinois attorney general’s office. Like Negron, Martin is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He says he has raised about $51,000 for his campaign.

• Chicago Public Schools teacher James Karalus.

• Marmalade restaurant owner Kosta “Gus” Katsafaros.

• Jeff Jenkins, co-founder of Midnight Circus in the Parks.

Negron, who filed his statement of candidacy on March 14, so far has reported getting a little over $20,000 in campaign contributions. Former Deputy Mayor Steve Koch and lobbyist Michael Alvarez each gave Negron $2,500, records show.

Negron grew up in Humboldt Park, his father a union factory worker from Puerto Rico, and his mother a CPS teacher from Guatemala.

He has lived in the 47th Ward for three years.

He worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and in the Obama administration’s Defense Department and Office of Budget and Management. He also worked with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Negron arrived at City Hall in 2011, a few months after Emanuel was first elected. His started as director of the city’s Innovation Delivery Team, an efficiency effort funded by a $6 million grant from then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charitable foundation.

Beginning in January 2013, Negron was chief of policy. He left the Emanuel administration about a month ago.

“I’ve been in public service for almost 15 years,” says Negron, whose salary at City Hall was more than $165,000.

One of his rivals argues that his ties to Emanuel are a mark against him. “I personally do not want somebody who’s directly linked to the mayor in this role,” Dordek says.

Negron, pointing to Pawar, says: “Ameya has charted a good path. When he disagrees with the mayor, he’s open about it.”

In a written statement via a spokesman, Emanuel says of Negron: “I earned deep respect for Michael’s commitment to public service and his passion for improving the lives of our fellow Chicagoans.”

With several challengers already announcing plans to run for mayor in 2019, it’s unlikely, though, that Emanuel will have much time or energy to help allies in aldermanic races.

And with the mayor’s popularity dented for a variety of reasons, it’s debatable whether Emanuel’s blessing would help or hinder Negron and other friends in council races.