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Later this week the Illinois State Council of the Service Employees International Union is likely to announce its endorsements for the February municipal elections. The list won’t be radically different from the one already announced by the Chicago Federation of Labor, an umbrella organization that includes several SEIU locals, but union leaders say it won’t be exactly the same, either. For example, in the hotly contested 43rd and 50th Ward races the federation backed Michele Smith and Greg Brewer, respectively. SEIU won’t be endorsing anyone.
Winning the endorsement of particular unions or locals is probably more important than winning the federation’s. For starters, it’s the individual unions who can provide the people needed to knock on doors, hand out literature, and get people to the polls, and not all of the 300-plus CFL member organizations are going to be equally motivated to, say, push Sandi Jackson over Darcel Beavers in the Seventh Ward—a race SEIU says is a priority. In addition, some union sources are quietly saying that the federation isn’t half as interested in committing the cash to back upstart aldermanic candidates as it’s been claiming the past few months.
Frankly, no one’s sure what the impact of the unions will be. The amount SEIU is going to spend on the municipal elections is “still up in the air,” according to Marianne McMullen, communications director for the SEIU state council. But she said 1,000 of the 78,000 SEIU members in Chicago have enlisted to work as “lock captains in key aldermanic races, including those in the 7th, 15th, 16th, and 42nd Wards.
McMullen said SEIU has a clear goal. “There hasn’t been a strong model for any organization to mobilize voters besides the Democratic machine. SEIU is trying to set up a political organization that is machinelike in its structure,” she said.
A resident of the Daley family’s 11th Ward, McMullen said she’s used to visits from the Democratic assistant precinct captain, who asks how things are going and what services she needs. “Now, we can’t say we’ll move Streets and San for you," she said. "But the premise is the same—the communication-and-persuasion premise.”