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Unions that bet on losing mayoral candidate celebrate Council shift: ‘We won’

Successful aldermanic candidates, top row, left to right: Matt Martin (47th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Jeanette Taylor (20th); bottom row, left to right: Ald Leslie Hairston (5th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th). Sun-Times file photos by Rich Hein.

The Chicago Teachers Union and the Service Employees International Union of Illinois lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in their effort to crown Toni Preckwinkle mayor, but both say they’re proud to have successfully supported a left-wing swing in the City Council.

And in their first major foray into Chicago politics, the Illinois Network of Charter School’s political fund saw six supported candidates win in the runoffs — for a total of 10 of their 13 endorsed aldermanic candidates having won during the February and April elections.

The Chicago Teachers Union pumped about $339,000 into its endorsed candidates’ campaigns between the February and runoff elections, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.

And while the majority of its picks won, the bulk of that cash — more than $215,400 — went into the coffers of Preckwinkle’s failed mayoral bid.

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot (left) shakes hands with former mayoral candidate Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on during a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH organization April 3, 2019. File photo. | Ashlee Rezin/S
Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot (left) shakes hands with former mayoral candidate Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle as Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on during a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH organization April 3, 2019. File photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“Our movement doesn’t change with who is on the fifth floor,” CTU Vice President Stacy Davis Gates said. “Rahm Emanuel is gone, Bruce Rauner is gone, and the CTU is here. We won.”

Davis Gates said the union’s “values weren’t in vain,” noting they’re encouraged that Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot supported many elements of the CTU’s platform on the campaign trail, including prioritizing South and West side schools for investment, and supporting an elected school board.

“We hope to see her govern on those same values,” Gates said.

More importantly, she said, CTU-endorsed candidates are part of the core of a major left shift in the City Council. The union gave nearly $35,600 to Dyett High School hunger striker Jeanette Taylor in her successful 20th Ward bid on the South Side; $20,000 to Byron Sigcho-Lopez in the Southwest Side’s 25th Ward; $5,000 to Andre Vasquez in the North Side’s 40th; and $10,000 to Matt Martin in the 47th on the North Side. Taylor, Sigcho-Lopez and Vasquez are all members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

“These are people that came up in conjunction with our movement, and they are going to lead a bold and dynamic vision for what Chicago can and should be,” Gates said. “These are the individuals that will be able to thread the needle and count to 26 [clinching council votes] because they’re organizers.”

Additionally, the CTU gave $20,000 to Melissa Conyears-Ervin’s winning city treasurer bid, and $10,000 to incumbent Ald. Leslie Hairston, who defeated activist William Calloway by just 176 votes in the South Side’s 5th Ward.

Candidate for City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin at Manny’s Deli, Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
Candidate for City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin at Manny’s Deli, Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
Sun-Times file

The union also dumped $18,000 into Rafael Yanez’s losing bid to unseat Ald. Ray Lopez in the Southwest Side’s 15th Ward, and $5,000 into Robert Murphy’s unsuccessful campaign in the 39th Ward on the Northwest Side.

Beyond chipping in more than $2 million to Preckwinkle’s mayoral bid — including $533,000 between the primary and runoff election — SEIU Illinois Council PAC won 11 of the 14 aldermanic seats it sought. In total, it spent more than $718,000 to support Preckwinkle and aldermanic candidates between the February and April runoff elections, records show.

“Frankly, the City Council is more progressive than it was previously. If Lori [Lightfoot] chooses to govern as progressive as she ran, I think we’re going to be in perfectly fine shape,” said Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of SEIU Local 1. Morrison said the union will be pushing for progressive policies, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, investments in neighborhoods and police reform.

Morrison said the union is excited about a lot of new faces in the City Council, including Sigcho-Lopez, who’s also an SEIU member.

The union also spent money defending Hairston and Ald. Roderick Sawyer. Sawyer initially appeared to have a slim majority in the South Side’s 6th Ward on Feb. 26 but wound up losing it as mail-in votes trickled in. In the subsequent April runoff, the son of a former Chicago mayor defeated Deborah Foster-Bonner by 815 votes, nearly 54% to 46%.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) speaks with Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) during a City Council meeting in 2017. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) speaks with Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) during a City Council meeting in 2017. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

“We had a longstanding relationship with both of those aldermen. They stood with SEIU for some time and have been critical to a lot of our legislation in the city Council,” Morrison said. “And we have a lot of members in those wards. It was important that we help defend those members, and that’s what we did.”

Morrison said the union will make a big push for $15 an hour by 2021, with a mechanism to provide further increases.

“I think from what we’ve heard from the Lightfoot campaign and within the City Council, that should move fairly quickly,” Morrison said. “It sounds like there’s universal support for it.”

Besides SEIU Illinois Council PAC, where the union uses most of its political might, the union’s Local 1 gave Preckwinkle about $830,000; SEIU Healthcare gave her $228,000, and SEIU Local 73 gave her $172,000, records show.

SEIU Illinois Council PAC also supported the following winning runoff campaigns: Matt Martin in the North Side’s 47th with $10,000; Milly Santiago in the Northwest Side’s 31st with $5,000; Howard Brookins Jr. in the South Side’s 21st with $5,000; and Conyears-Ervin with $5,000.

31st Ward aldermanic candidates Milagros “Milly” Santiago (incumbent, left) and Felix Cardona Jr. met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday, March 12, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
31st Ward aldermanic candidates Milagros “Milly” Santiago (incumbent, left) and Felix Cardona Jr. met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday, March 12, 2019. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

That PAC also contributed $10,000 to Jessica Gutierrez’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Ald. Ariel Reboyras in the Northwest Side’s 30th Ward.

SEIU Healthcare and SEIU Local 1 both have an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times.

A super PAC affiliated with the Illinois Network of Charter Schools spent more than $800,000 in the 2019 elections, which was intended to boost support in the City Council to offset a potential Lightfoot mayoral victory. On the campaign trail, Lightfoot has said she supports a moratorium on new charter schools.

INCS Action, the political and advocacy arm of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said in a statement after the election that it endorsed candidates who “embrace equal educational opportunities for all students,” specifically supporters of charter public schools.

Ten of 13 candidates endorsed by the group won. It helped bolster the campaigns of Brookins in the 21st, Reboyras in the 30th, Lopez in the 15th, Ald. Stephanie Coleman in the South Side’s 16th, Felix Cardona in the 31st and Samantha Nugent in the 39th.

Successful 16th Ward candidate Stephanie Coleman, left, and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), right. File Photos. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times
Successful 16th Ward candidate Stephanie Coleman, left, and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), right. File Photos. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Three candidates supported by the charter school-linked PAC lost: Ald. Joe Moore in the North Side’s 49th Ward, Ald. Pat O’Connor in the North Side’s 40th Ward and candidate Alex Acevedo, who ran in the Southwest Side’s 25th Ward.