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The mayor's millionaire club, part II

A look at Rahm Emanuel's calendar shows how wealth and access, far more than party identity or ideology, have come to comand the attention of politicians—leaving everyday people out of the conversation

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On the morning of May 17, aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaked word that he was furious about the "blatant hypocrisy."

Hours earlier, the New York Times had reported that Joe Ricketts—patriarch of the family that owns the Cubs—was funding an effort to thwart President Obama's reelection bid. Among the ad campaigns under consideration was one attacking Obama as an anti-American radical and mocking him for supposedly trying to be a "metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln."

Over the next few days Emanuel would repeatedly display his anger, calling the anti-Obama campaign "insulting," then breaking into laughter and abruptly leaving a press conference when asked about blowing off Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, Joe's son, who'd been lobbying for a deal to rehab Wrigley Field with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The message was clear: Emanuel, the president's former chief of staff and one of the nation's most powerful Democrats, had little patience for the ugly personal attacks and loose campaign finance rules fueling the opposition to Obama's agenda.

Out of the public view, though, Emanuel hasn't been quite so turned off by the president's enemies.

As Obama struggled last fall to move his policies through Congress, Emanuel quietly made time in his schedule for one-on-one chats with some of the country's biggest donors to right-wing causes, including conservative organizations fighting environmental protections, "illegal aliens," and financial regulations, and political action committees aligned with Karl Rove, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, who famously declared, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Oh yeah—they've also given millions of dollars to Mitt Romney.

Welcome to part two in our ongoing series on the mayor's millionaire's club, in which we pore over the mayor's daily appointment schedule with the aim of shedding light on how the mayor prioritizes his time—and his far-reaching connections.

That's the appointment schedule Emanuel refuses to share with the public. Though the mayor has pledged to create "the most open, accountable, and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen"—not that the bar is particularly high—he has declined to make his meeting schedule available online or in any other regularly accessible format. And so we've had to ask for pieces of it through Freedom of Information Act requests, and then waited, and waited, and waited.

In contrast, President Obama posts logs of White House visitors and updates them regularly. That means it's easier to find out who Emanuel was meeting with in the White House when he was the president's chief of staff than to see who visited him on the fifth floor of Chicago's City Hall.

Last September, after submitting a FOIA request and badgering mayoral aides for weeks, we received copies of the first months of Emanuel's daily schedule. We reported in October that it was filled with rich guys who also happened to be some of the mayor's big-money donors.

This time we asked for the next three months of the calendar: September, October, and November of 2011—a period when GOP presidential candidates battling for the nomination were railing against the White House.

The mayor's office didn't respond to our request to discuss Emanuel's schedule. But once again, we found that his days were loaded with rich guys, campaign donors, powerful contractors, union busters, charter-school supporters, City Hall insiders, aldermanic brownnosers, and other favor seekers.

But during these three months Emanuel found time for another type of visitor: major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama. As such, the mayor's calendar offers a glimpse of what passes for bipartisanship in Chicago—and shows the ways in which wealth and access, at least as much as party identity or ideology, have come to command the attention of politicians, leaving everyday people out of the conversation.

For instance, on September 1 Emanuel met for an hour with Muneer Satter, a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Satter donated $190,000 last year to Restore Our Future, a Romney-affiliated PAC, and he's sent tens of thousands more to top congressional Republicans fighting to slash federal programs and regulations. Yet Goldman Sachs isn't averse to taking money from governments predominated by Democrats: the city of Chicago has hired the firm repeatedly for no-bid work as an adviser on bond issues, including a $600 million bond sale last month. In February the CTA picked the firm to advise it on "public-private partnerships" to help finance infrastructure.

A couple weeks after the chat with Satter, the mayor set aside an hour for one of his favorite Republicans, Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel Investment Group, a hedge fund. The Griffin household was particularly generous to Mayor Emanuel's campaign: Griffin himself donated $100,000 while his wife, Anne Dias-Griffin, who also manages a hedge fund, gave another $100,000. Other Citadel employees chipped in $39,000 more.

More recently, the Griffins pitched in more than $1 million to Restore Our Future, Romney's PAC, and earlier this month sponsored a fund-raiser at the Pump Room expected to rake in $3.3 million for the Romney campaign, according to a Sun-Times article by Abdon Pallasch. Four years ago they gave money to both Obama and John McCain.

The couple's support for conservative causes doesn't end with the presidential race. They've also given $1.5 million to American Crossroads, a PAC founded by Karl Rove. And let's not forget the money—totalling $1.5 million, according to the Chicago Tribune—that the Griffins contributed to Americans for Prosperity, an organization created by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded efforts to bust unions and roll back environmental protections.

Still, on educational issues, the Griffins are frequently on the same side of the fight as Emanuel. They donated $500,000 to Stand for Children Illinois, which last year joined forces with the mayor to lead the legislative effort to limit the bargaining powers of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Rahm Emanuel met with conservative, Republican donors
  • Rahm Emanuel carved out time last fall to meet with major funders of conservative attacks on President Obama . . .
Rahm Emanuel meets with Mitt Romney donors
  • Gage Skidmore
  • . . . including some of the biggest financial backers of eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

We'd love to tell you why Griffin likes Emanuel so much or what they discussed during their meeting. But Griffin, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.

On October 3, Emanuel set aside half an hour for Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, widely known for defending the "right" of banks to make a profit and proposing to charge account holders a $5 monthly debit card fee. The Bank of America PAC has given millions of dollars to pols on both sides of the aisle, ranging from Emanuel to congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Emanuel has a propensity for meeting with powerful bankers. On November 30 the mayor slated 45 minutes for Jim Rohr, the $16-million-a-year CEO of PNC Bank, a donor to Romney, the Republican National Committee, conservative former senator Rick Santorum, and the Eagle Forum, which is dedicated to cracking down on "illegal aliens," limiting abortions, and ending "multiculturalism" in schools—while also freeing the U.S. from United Nations "encroachment."

Incidentally, Rohr didn't allow his free-market principles to stop PNC from accepting a $48 million subsidy from Pennsylvania taxpayers to build a high-rise in downtown Pittsburgh.

"Rahm Emanuel should be the mayor for everybody, but he seems to be catering to those who are able to contribute to him, who have some clout, and he leaves out the voices everyday Chicagoans." —Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative

Emanuel's defenders, including lifelong Democrats, say Emanuel is just playing the game. "He has to keep cozy relationships with the big money guys," says Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. Emanuel squeezed in 15 minutes for Brookins last November.

And his allies say he's eager to meet with anyone who can bring jobs to Chicago. "Mayor Emanuel is intensely committed to improving our economy by providing jobs, training, and opportunity, and stabilizing our city's finances," says Michael Sacks, who runs Grosvenor Capital Management, a hedge fund firm, and informally serves as one of the mayor's top advisers.

Emanuel may see his one-on-ones with Wall Street and corporate leaders as economic development for Chicago, but at the core they're private meetings involving millions in public dollars.

On September 15, Emanuel hosted an hour-long meeting in his City Hall office with Terry Duffy, executive chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, state house speaker Michael Madigan, and state senate president John Cullerton. Duffy was of course well-known to the politicians. Earlier that year he'd publicly threatened to move the Merc—one of the wealthiest commodities exchanges in the world—out of Illinois to reduce its state tax bills. Not so publicly, the Merc had sent out checks—Emanuel's campaign fund received $200,000 the previous fall while Madigan collected $100,000 on top of the $122,500 he'd received over the past few years.

The men worked out a deal. In mid-December the state General Assembly approved legislation slicing the Merc's tax bill by an estimated $125 million over the next two years alone. Governor Pat Quinn—who received $65,000 from the Merc in 2010 but was curiously absent from the meeting at City Hall—signed it into law.

Immediately afterward, Emanuel issued a statement praising the move: "This tax reform legislation will protect thousands of jobs in Chicago and keep the CME Group where it belongs, here in the city."

For the record, CME is cutting jobs in Illinois as it moves toward electronic trading.

At no time in the three-month period we surveyed did Emanuel schedule a meeting with any of the economists, activists, business leaders, or elected officials who opposed CME's tax breaks.

A spokesman for CME was blunt when asked about the meetings at City Hall. "I don't have any information for you," he said.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown wouldn't discuss the donations, but he says that Madigan recused himself from the negotiations and vote that led up to the tax break deal because it would benefit a client of Madigan's law firm: another exchange, the CBOE. "He didn't play any part in it," Brown says.

Brown adds that he's not sure what the speaker's role was in the City Hall sit-down with Emanuel. "He might have been at the meeting just to listen to what was being said."

It's worth noting that the Merc's Duffy doesn't limit his generosity to Democrats. He's poured thousands of dollars into the coffers of the national Republican Party, and the Merc's political action committee has donated to congressional GOP leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Michele Bachmann, and other opponents of Obama's agenda.

"Rahm Emanuel should be the mayor for everybody, but he seems to be catering to those who are able to contribute to him, who have some power, some clout, and he leaves out the voices of everyday Chicagoans," says Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative, a coalition of community groups from across the city. "If he'd have conversations with neighborhood leaders, he'd at least get a picture of what's happening on the ground."

As a whole, appointments with neighborhood groups or community leaders were largely missing from the mayor's schedule. Patel says her group's requests for a meeting with the mayor have been ignored. She notes that Emanuel continues to find job subsidies for profitable corporations and developers at the same time he's cutting library hours, neighborhood services, and public-sector positions. "Let's talk about job creation but let's do it in a full way."

In fact, like many up-and-coming Republican stars, the mayor has shown a willingness—some would say an eagerness—to take on organized labor, especially the teachers union. He's also an avowed supporter of charter schools, paying them about as many visits, and arguably more attention, as he does regular public schools.

So it's probably no surprise that the mayor continues to make time for corporate friends who happen to be major funders of charter schools and teachers union opponents.

At the top of the list is Bruce Rauner, principal and chairman of GTCR, a private equity firm. Rauner is an old friend and repeat visitor who helped fund the creation of four Chicago charter schools. In addition, he's given $80,000 to the national Republican Party since Obama was elected president. On September 12 Emanuel had lunch with Sam Zell, owner of the Tribune, who donated $100,000 to Illinois Stand for Children and its campaign to weaken the teachers union. On October 15 the mayor swung by a gala for the Alain Locke charter school, which was founded by Pat Ryan Jr., scion of the Ryan family, longtime Republican boosters who started Aon Corporation. And of course the mayor found the time for his favorite charter school operator, Juan Rangel, CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization. On September 15 Emanuel attended the opening of a new UNO school and on November 14 he gave a speech at the organization's annual banquet.

To be fair, Emanuel also met with the people he appointed to run the Chicago Public Schools. He had regular meetings with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, apparently to plot strategy for a longer school day.

However, during this time he had no scheduled meetings with Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, or any other public school teacher who would have to work that longer day.

Nor did he schedule any time to meet with parents and community leaders affected by changes in the schools. Last fall and winter, after they stopped hearing from CPS officials, members of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization requested time with Emanuel to discuss reorganizations and closures of several schools on the mid-south side. When they didn't get a response over the next several weeks, they staged a sit-in at City Hall. They never heard from Emanuel, but two of his aides finally agreed to talk with them.

"They said he was aware of the issues but he wasn't able to meet with us," says KOCO executive director Brian Malone. "It was just like a stall tactic."

Long before he made the front pageof the New York Times, Joe Ricketts was widely known as a major donor to Republicans and conservative causes. In 2010 he gave nearly $1.2 million to the Ending Spending Action Fund, a PAC that used nearly $900,000 on an unsuccessful effort to oust Obama ally Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. That's the fund that later began planning the attacks on Obama.

But that didn't stop Emanuel from sitting down with Cubs officials last fall as they were reportedly seeking millions of dollars in handouts to help refurbish Wrigley Field. On November 2 he met for 15 minutes at City Hall with Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks. The next day he set aside 30 minutes for Theo Epstein, the club's president of baseball operations. And in the middle of the month, the mayor blocked out two 45-minute slots with top aides for meetings "regarding the Chicago Cubs."

Ricketts family spokesperson Dennis Culloton says Epstein dropped by to introduce himself to the mayor and Banks was likely just saying hello as well. "It was probably more of, 'Can we play two?'"

Culloton says discussions with city officials are ongoing. "There's been continuing dialogue from the end of 2010 on, more on the staff level."

Last month, a few days after his apparent furor over the Obama funding controversy, Emanuel told the Sun-Times that "the point has been made" and he would talk again with Cubs officials "at the appropriate time."

The public might never find out when that is. Every day the mayor's schedule includes unspecified meetings at undisclosed sites labeled "private."

Nevertheless, some private events are easy to sleuth out, including two held at the West Town home of Rajiv Fernando, who runs a stock trading firm and donated $50,000 to the mayor's campaign and $10,000 to the Chicago Committee, another Emanuel political fund. One event at Fernando's home, on September 19, was a $10,000-a-plate dinner featuring "JRB," otherwise known as Joseph Robbinette Biden.

Undoubtedly, President Obama will be pleased to know that his former chief of staff occasionally finds time to meet with Democrats who might support the president's programs.

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