A young tech entrepreneur from the South Side quietly has begun organizing a bid to challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next year’s election.
You may be hearing of Neal Sales-Griffin for the first time now, but he’s been reaching out to political players for several months now, seeking their support in the 2019 mayoral race.
Sales-Griffin, 30, filed the paperwork to form a campaign fundraising committee on Nov. 27 and stated his intent to run for mayor at that time, records show.
Some other would-be mayoral challengers — including former schools CEO Paul Vallas and Emanuel’s former top cop Garry McCarthy — have been content to float trial balloons and criticize Emanuel in the press, without announcing whether they will run after all.
Sales-Griffin has preferred to fly under the media radar until now. Only on Friday — and only after a Chicago Sun-Times reporter contacted him — did Sales-Griffin make his first public comments on the campaign.
He confirmed he intends to run in the February 2019 election.
“There are a lot of people who want to see something different,” Sales-Griffin said. “They’re fed up with what’s going on.”
Sales-Griffin grew up in Hyde Park and Kenwood. His father is African-American, and his mother’s roots are in Honduras and the Philippines, he said.
After graduating from Mount Carmel High School and Northwestern University, Sales-Griffin started a computer coding boot camp, The Starter League. He sold the company in 2016, and now he is CEO of CodeNow, a nonprofit group that helps teach coding to schoolchildren.
The sale of his company, he said, “was a very modest deal,” and he doesn’t have the ability to personally finance a multi-million-dollar campaign for mayor.
“I’m good,” he said. “We can eat. I can take care of my family. But I’m not self-funding my campaign. I’m not a billionaire or a millionaire.”
Public records show his campaign has received most of its backing from a new political group called Unite Chicago PAC. Formed in August, Unite Chicago’s chairman is Max Temkin, co-creator of Cards Against Humanity, a popular game.
Campaign-finance records show that the two largest contributors to Unite Chicago are Jason Fried, the CEO of the Basecamp tech company, and Gregg Latterman, who was founder and chief executive of Aware Records. Fried gave $11,100 and Latterman $11,000.
Basecamp also is donating office space to the Sales-Griffin campaign in the same West Loop building that houses the Chicago Sun-Times, according to public documents.
Fried said he has known Sales-Griffin for seven years and had helped him with his business ventures also.
“He has a real energy about him,” Fried said. “I think he’s a positive force, and I think the city could use some real positivity from the top. A lot of people are down on the city now, for a variety of reasons. I don’t know. Something doesn’t feel right, and people want to feel good about this place.”
Pete Giangreco, the spokesman for Emanuel’s campaign, declined to comment on Sales-Griffin’s challenge.
Sales-Griffin said he’s motivated to run in large part because he sees so many members of his family and others leaving Chicago for the suburbs and other states.
“People are moving away, and people who are stuck here are dealing with things they shouldn’t have to deal with,” he said. “My Thanksgiving table is shrinking, and that’s not OK.”
Without providing any policy details or specific criticisms of Emanuel, Sales-Griffin said he was concerned about crime, jobs and education, and he promised he would bring a “fundamentally different point of view than our current leadership.”
He said he had helped Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Iowa in 2016 and was a “big fan” of President Barack Obama. He’s also on the board of the new left-leaning news organization started by 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar.
And last year, Sales-Griffin spoke at the campaign kickoff for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker. In an introductory video for the campaign, Sales-Griffin said Pritzker’s 1871 tech hub had helped launch CodeNow.
But he said Friday he doesn’t have any real experience in politics or know his exact place on the political spectrum.
“It’s hard to fit me into a box,” Sales-Griffin said. “I don’t know. We’ll see where I stand.
“I’m not a traditional politician. I’m just a guy who gives a s—.”