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How to win Rahm's love if you're running for alderman

The smart way for City Council candidates to complete a questionnaire from the mayor's PAC



As part of my ongoing effort to be more civic-minded, I figure I should help aldermanic candidates correctly answer Mayor Emanuel's endorsement questionnaire.

Technically, it's the endorsement questionnaire of Chicago Forward, a political action committee run by a former mayoral aide who wants everyone to believe it's not—repeat, not—controlled by Emanuel. Even though no one—especially the mayor—believes that.

Chicago Forward is run by my old pal Becky Carroll, who used to be the mayor's chief spokeswoman at the Chicago Public Schools. In the last few months, it's raised more than $1 million from some of the mayor's closest and richest chums, including Michael Sacks, Kenneth Griffin, and other gazillionaires.

As Carroll explains in her cover letter to potential endorsees, Chicago Forward will use the money it raises to "launch a series of targeted communication campaigns ward by ward and city-wide to get our message out to voters through television ads, radio ads, mail and phone communications."

So if you don't want Chicago Forward to pound you like a pinata, you have to answer these questions and answer them right.

As Carroll puts it: "We plan to use your answers to evaluate your candidacy in comparison to other aldermanic candidates."

That's as subtle as a visit from Luca Brasi.

The questionnaire is in a yes-or-no format, which seems appropriate, given how much Mayor Emanuel appears to like multiple-choice standardized tests. In fact, Carroll makes it clear that "we will not accept any written statements or explanations sent to us as a follow-up to the 'yes' or 'no' responses."

As you can see, a lot is riding on this baby. So let me be of service. Among the questions:

"Would you be willing to support tough but necessary steps, such as increases in property taxes . . . to help further reduce [Chicago's] structural deficit?"

You may be tempted to answer no on the grounds that Chicagoans hate property tax hikes—a fact that even Mayor Emanuel figured out, though he's spent most of his adult life in Washington. As such, the mayor has taken the decidedly not-so-tough position that, with big pension payments looming, he can postpone a property tax hike until after next year's municipal elections.

That means that sometime in 2015, if he's reelected, Mayor Emanuel will be trying to round up at least 25 aldermen to rubber-stamp his tax hike while praising him for doing the right thing. If you want the mayor's endorsement, answer yes.

"Do you support expanding high quality school choices for families that include neighborhood, charter, IB, STEM, magnet and selective enrollment schools?"

The key word here is "charter," as in those privately run, publicly funded schools that pay teachers lousy wages. Like other privatization schemes, charters sometimes sound good but have troubling long-term effects, as has been noted by parents who don't like the mayor taking money from their neighborhood schools to fund the charters.

If you don't want Chicago Forward to pound you like a pinata, you have to answer these questions and answer them right.

The other types of schools on the list are generally noncontroversial. So with this question, the mayor's stealing a trick he learned from that scene in Bananas where Woody Allen's character buys copies of Time, Commentary, Newsweek, and the Saturday Review to cover up his purchase of Orgasm magazine.

If you want the mayor's dough, answer yes.

"While some are advocating that CPS have an elected school board, others believe this would further politicize our city's public education system. Do you support an elected school board?"

The key word here is "some." That's a euphemism for "those lousy mother—————s," or whatever it is that Mayor Rahm calls everyone tired of school boards appointed by the mayor to sign off on his schemes.

In any event, "some" would say the board is already politicized. And "some" would also say we'd be better off at least trying an elected school board, like the other school districts in the state. But "some"—as opposed to "others"—would not get the mayor's nod. So the correct answer is no.

"Will you champion tougher gun laws that will help prevent illegal guns from entering our city and hold those accountable who sell these guns?"

This is tricky, because Emanuel's position on gun control has evolved. Back in his days in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and also as an influential member of Congress, Emanuel had chances to help enact tougher gun laws. Alas, not wanting to upset the NRA, he urged his fellow Democrats to wimp out.

Now that he's mayor of a liberal city where the NRA is largely abhorred, he's evolved into a smaller version of Michael Moore.

So the correct answer is yes—unless the mayor returns to Washington.

"Do you support the minimum wage city ordinance that will raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2018?"

I'd be tempted to answer no on the grounds that the mayor's minimum wage ordinance is largely his attempt to protect big businesses from giving workers an actual livable wage. And that by year 2018, $13 will probably be as inadequate as $8.25 an hour is today.

Of course, if you were me, you wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting the mayor's endorsement, much less his campaign money. So if you want those mayoral Benjamins, answer yes.

"Do you support the City's efforts to boost investments in its infrastructure, including the use of Tax Increment Financing?"

One more time: the TIFs are a property tax surcharge that gets diverted into bank accounts largely controlled by the mayor. He then spends the money on anything he wants.

I contend that if the mayor wasn't wasting tens of millions of TIF dollars on things like his plan to build a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott, we might have a dollar or two left to fill potholes.

But if you want the mayor's endorsement, you absolutely, positively must answer yes. Because what's the fun of being mayor if you don't have millions in slush to dole out?

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