Mayoral challenger Garry McCarthy on Wednesday leveled a familiar charge against Rahm Emanuel — “pay-to-play politics — for accepting a $35,000 contribution from developer Dan McCaffery one day after the Chicago Plan Commission approved McCaffery’s master plan for the site of the CHA’s Harold Ickes Homes.
McCarthy noted that Emanuel is an ex-officio member of the Plan Commission and appoints nearly half of its members.
But that didn’t stop the mayor from accepting McCaffery’s money on the day after the Plan Commission signed off on the developer’s plan to build as many as 972 residential units as part of a massive mixed-used development on the 13-acre site.
“This just stinks. It does not pass the sniff test,” said McCarthy, the fired Chicago Police superintendent.
“When I was the superintendent and I would get a phone call from somebody at City Hall, they would say, `The optics of this are problematic.’ I think that’s an understatement. I see this as outright corruption. It’s pay-for-play. How can this possibly be going on?”
On his first day on the job in 2011, Emanuel signed executive orders that slammed the “revolving door” that had allowed city employees and mayoral appointees to lobby City Hall. They were banned from doing so for at least two years after leaving their city jobs.
The mayor also said he would stop accepting campaign contributions from city lobbyists. And city employees would be insulated from pressure they have felt to give gifts or make political contributions to the mayor, department heads or city supervisors.
Emanuel also reissued three of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s executive orders. They included a ban on political contributions to the mayor from the owners of companies doing business with the city.
Still, Emanuel has continued to accept contributions from developers doing business with the city.
On Wednesday, McCarthy accused Emanuel of “gaming the system” with an ethics policy that has so many loopholes, you could drive a truck through it.
“Without city approval, [McCaffery] doesn’t get money. … If he’s a developer or a builder or somebody who has contracts with the city or not, he’s making money and it smells like undue influence on the process,” McCarthy said.
McCaffery flatly denied that his $35,000 contribution to the mayor was an example of pay-to-play politics. “I don’t have anything to pay for right now. … I’ve got all my projects underway,” he said.
“I think this mayor is doing a damned good job in a very tough environment. So I’m happy to support him. And I don’t expect a thing in return.”
Four years ago, McCaffery contributed $66,000 to Emanuel’s re-election campaign months after the mayor and City Council signed off on his controversial plan to redevelop the old Children’s Memorial Hospital site in Lincoln Park.
McCaffery said that contribution wasn’t pay-to-play politics and neither is this one.
In fact, he said he didn’t even know that the Plan Commission had approved his master plan for the Ickes site.
“I never look at that stuff. I’m happy to support the mayor. Look, you’re in the city. You want the city to work. You want people working hard to know that you appreciate they’re working hard. That’s all,” he said. “I really take strong exception to any even a hint of that. It’s not me. I don’t do that.”
Emanuel campaign spokesperson Cara Brookens also rejected McCarthy’s pay-to-play charge and attempted to turn the tables on the police superintendent the mayor fired.
“The mayor is in compliance with city ordinances, and his own executive order placed further restrictions on donations to him. All contributions are reviewed for compliance,” Brookens wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Nearly every dollar in Garry McCarthy’s coffers comes from Republicans who helped catapult Donald Trump into the White House, and now they want a Republican running City Hall. We have no comment on McCarthy’s judgment when it comes to contributions.”
During the 2015 mayoral campaign that ended in Chicago’s first-ever mayoral run-off, Emanuel raised and spent a record $24 million and was hammered by his challengers for the nexus between his campaign donors and city actions.