CHICAGO - Business leaders have taken a pass when it comes to fielding their own candidate in the crowded race for mayor of Chicago. But they’re apparently determined to prevent a City Council in transition from turning sharply to the left.
Mike Ruemmler, who managed former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2015 reelection campaign, said Tuesday he plans to file paperwork in the next two weeks to form an independent expenditure committee bankrolled by business leaders for the purpose of electing moderate alderpersons determined to be, as he put it, "workhorses—not show horses."
"People who are interested in coming to the City Council to be part of the solution and not lob bombs from the sideline," Ruemmler said.
Pressed to describe what concerns him most, Ruemmler said, "A mindset of ‘my way or the highway.’ And the folks who have the city’s best interests at heart as a first priority, and maybe not their own, who like to work with their colleagues on solving problems seem to be fading away."
Veteran Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) has told the Sun-Times he is concerned the departure of more experienced, collaborative and mainstream colleagues could pave the way for the election of a new City Council that turns sharply to the left.
The always outspoken Sposato has said he is particularly concerned about the election of what he calls "lefty loons," which he defines as liberal alderpersons who favor more government giveaways and want to defund the police.
Ruemmler refused to go that far at a time when United Working Families, a progressive group with close ties to the Chicago Teachers Union, has endorsed 18 aldermanic candidates.
He simply noted that business leaders, including former Chicago Sun-Times investor Michael Sacks, are concerned enough about the number of open seats and the turn the City Council could take to put their money where their mouths are.
"The direction of the Council over the last few years has been somewhat worrisome. And we do want to help elect people who are collaborative and want to work with their colleagues to solve the issues that we have in the city," Ruemmler said.
"I’ve gotten more calls today than I have in any day since I left City Hall, of people who are interested, want to be helpful, want to be donors. Some from business. Some from organized labor. This isn’t gonna be a dark money PAC. So everybody will be able to see where the money is coming from and where it’s gonna be spent."
Ruemmler said he has "pledges" but refused to say for how much.
"I hope that it is into the seven figures. We’ll play in as many wards as we can. And as many as we need to," Ruemmler said, pegging the number at "somewhere between 17 and 23" wards.
"We’ll send a questionnaire out to all candidates. Everybody will be welcome to respond to it. We’ll evaluate those and see where we can have the greatest impact."
In a text message to the Sun-Times, Sacks confirmed plans to contribute to the new PAC, which does not yet have a name.
"I think it is a good team and an important, smart idea. I plan to support the effort," Sacks, CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, wrote.
In 2015, Emanuel’s allies created "Chicago Forward," a super PAC that spent $4 million to reelect Emanuel and strengthen his City Council majority.
The big money effort sputtered badly in Round One, even though it raised money from many of the same people who contributed heavily to Emanuel.
Of the amount that Chicago Forward spent on mayoral allies, 64 percent went to candidates forced into runoffs; 31 percent went to winners, and 5 percent went to two losers.
Smaller amounts were devoted to opposing two of the most vocal mayoral critics on the Council.
Scott Waguespack (32nd) easily won reelection after Chicago Forward spent $6,000 in a failed attempt to unseat him.
Then-Ald. John Arena (45th) was forced into a runoff, and ultimately survived a runoff against John Garrido, thanks to heavy union support that far surpassed the nearly $20,000 that the pro-Emanuel PAC used to oppose him.
Becky Carroll, the longtime Emanuel confidante who ran Chicago Forward, argued then that the effort "helped 18 aldermen secure reelection and placed 12 of 13 facing runoffs as the top vote-getters in their ward."
She also pointed out that the long list of union groups opposed to Emanuel had together spent almost twice as much as Chicago Forward in the aldermanic races.
Ruemmler stressed that there is a "stark difference" between Chicago Forward and the PAC he is chairing.
"It was well known that Chicago Forward existed to help Rahm and to help Rahm-affiliated candidates. And we’re not affiliated with any mayoral campaign or any aldermanic campaign," he said.