News & Politics » Ben Joravsky on Politics

As he seeks Wilson's runoff endorsement, Mayor Rahm has the willies

The mayor—with help from Governor Rauner—tries to build his African-American support.



Last Tuesday's mayoral election was barely over before I started hearing rumors about Governor Bruce Rauner trying to talk third-place finisher Willie Wilson into endorsing Rahm Emanuel.

Call it a sign of how desperate Mayor Emanuel must be feeling as he faces the unimaginable: an April 7 runoff against Cook County commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Apparently columnist Michael Sneed was hearing the same reports, because over the weekend the Sun-Times splashed her exclusive about the Rauner-Rahm-Wilson negotiations on page one, under the beautiful headline "Gov Triangle."

Lord, I love the Bright One!

OK, let's run through the cast of characters in this saga.

Rauner is our newly elected Republican governor—the one whose draconian proposed budget would cut, among other things, $135 million in state aid to Chicago, which is already broke.

Willie Wilson is the Bible-quoting millionaire businessman who pulled enough votes out of Chicago's black wards to help force Emanuel into a runoff against Garcia.

And the mayor is—well, I think we all know who he is by now.

If he's elected, Emanuel—like Garcia—will have to figure out how to make ends meet in the face of all those Rauner budget cuts.

Good luck, fellas.

For the record, Mayor Emanuel is trying to win over liberal voters by saying that he's the only one with the muscle to defy Governor Rauner, and that the governor should raise taxes on rich people before cutting the budget.

As the mayor recently told reporters: "If you're going to look for major reforms and finding savings, I suggest you look at the tax code, where there's a bunch of corporate giveaways and corporate loopholes."

Of course, Emanuel was singing a much different tune back in 2011, when he enthusiastically endorsed the state's massive tax "giveaway" to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The mayor called that "tax reform."

That was the old, budget-slicing, privatizing, corporate-tax-break-giving Mayor Romney—er, Mayor Rahm—as opposed to the guy who's so concerned about winning reelection that he's starting to sound like me.

In any event, if the governor is afraid that the mayor will stand up to his budget cuts, he's got a funny way of showing it: by maneuvering to help Emanuel win reelection.

Meanwhile, unlike Emanuel, Wilson makes no bones about his ties to Rauner. Before he was running for mayor against Emanuel's school closings and red-light camera program, Wilson endorsed Rauner's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. In return, Rauner named Wilson to his transition team.

Talk about an inequitable exchange. Wilson gives Rauner a personal endorsement, and in return Rauner puts Wilson on a relatively meaningless blue-ribbon committee.

The least Rauner could have done is thrown Wilson a contribution or two from his war chest. Then again, after spending around $60 million to get elected, maybe he was a little tapped out.

To be frank, I'm not sure how much value Wilson's endorsement has for the mayor. Wilson only received 10 percent of the vote in Tuesday's election, and it's not at all clear that his supporters would follow him to Emanuel.

The mayor's operatives tell me it's all about slowing Garcia's momentum—and adding to Emanuel's long list of endorsements that includes the Sun-Times, the Tribune, Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and President Obama.

Not that they put the mayor over the top on February 24.

In any event, Wilson's aides tell me the mayor and Wilson have met twice in the last few days. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

I have a feeling that Mayor Rahm is so desperate he would have joined Wilson in singing a hymn or two, maybe "Rock of Ages": "Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee . . . "

Sorry, that hymn's been on my mind since I heard it being sung in Dividing the Estate, the sensational Horton Foote play now at Raven Theatre. It's about a dysfunctional Texas family that's pious on the outside and moneygrubbing and dirty on the inside.

Sort of like Chicago politics, without the pious part.

By the way, the mayor doesn't have a lock on Wilson's endorsement. Garcia has also been talking with Wilson in the last few days.

But—as the sitting mayor—Emanuel definitely has more to offer than Garcia.

For the record, Wilson's spokesman says Governor Rauner did talk to Wilson over the weekend, but he wasn't trying to talk Wilson into backing the mayor.

And Wilson has a long list of requests for the mayor, including reopening some of the 50 schools the mayor closed, shutting down a few of the red-light cameras, and spending more economic development dollars in poor communities as opposed to rich ones.

Imagine that.

"The key is using development for some of the most blighted communities in Chicago," says Gregory Livingston, a spokesman for Wilson.

And how did the mayor respond to the requests? "He listened and said he'd get back to us."

Wow. Can you imagine Mayor Emanuel reopening a school or two to save his political behind? I would call that ironic.

This is the guy who's billing himself as the tough politician who does the right things, even if people don't want him to do them: closing schools, cutting pensions to retirees, and firing teachers, to name but a few.

When it's his own neck on the line, maybe he's not so tough after all.

Well, as long as Mr. Wilson has the mayor's ear, he might want to make a few other suggestions: reopen the six shuttered mental health clinics, legalize and tax marijuana (we do need new sources of revenue), and put the kibosh on that plan to build a Marriott hotel and DePaul basketball arena in the South Loop.

The $500 million or so that the mayor is wasting there would come in handy for plugging the deficit.

If he does all that, even I might have to think about endorsing him.

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