by Ben Joravsky
No way, I texted back. No union—even one in Chicago—can be that stupid.
Yes way, my friend responded, look it up yourself.
So I went to the Illinois Board of Elections website and there it was in black and white. On May 30, Local 73—which represents hundreds of working-class city, park, and school employees—gave the mayor a little more of what he most definitely does not need: campaign money.
I dutifully called and e-mailed Adam Rosen, Local 73's press spokesman, for an answer to my main question—what the hell were you thinking?
But he didn't get back to me.
Look, I understand that self-interest drives politics. In that regard, I can see why people like hedge-fund billionaires or lawyers for the parking meter company donate to Mayor Rahm. He's looking out for them.
But as far as I can tell, the only thing Local 73's members get from the mayor is the shaft.
Not just on the work front, where the mayor's been firing workers at schools, parks, and the city—in the name of reform—while endorsing tax breaks for the rich in the name of economic development.
But in terms of larger policies. After all, many of the school aides, security guards, and Park District employees whom Local 73 represents live in the very south- and west-side neighborhoods the mayor's hit hardest with his school and mental-health-clinic closings.
I guess I should have seen this donation coming. Earlier this year, Local 73 broke ranks from most of the other public employees' unions to endorse Mayor Emanuel's proposed pension plan. And last month Mayor Emanuel put Matt Brandon—secretary/treasurer of Local 73—on his minimum-wage task force.
Which I still suspect is just a ruse to undercut the whole minimum-wage movement.
So let's give Local 73 the benefit of the doubt and interpret this as the next step in a series of cynical steps based on the assumption that the mayor's unbeatable.
But the mayor's not unbeatable. At the moment, he's very vulnerable—recent polls show him getting about 8 percent of the black vote and 2 percent of the Hispanic vote.
So it seems that not only is Local 73 president Christine Boardman betting on a man her members oppose, it's not even a sure bet.
Moreover, if the mayor wins reelection, there's a good chance he'll double down on his union-whacking policies. So Local 73's effectively donating money, collected from its members' dues, to a mayor whose policies hurt its members.
Think of it as helping Mayor Emanuel buy the rope he'll use to hang them—to paraphrase Lenin.
As far as I can tell, capitulating to a political bully has never, ever worked. The teachers' union tried that tactic back in the 90s and early `00s, and look where it got them. Mayor Daley took the money he was supposed to be paying into its pension fund and spent it on other things. Now Mayor Emanuel—Daley's handpicked successor—is saying "Sorry, guys, but I'm gonna have to cut your pensions."
I'll give the teachers' union credit on this score. Apparently they've learned their lesson—finally!
Anyway, back to the scene at the pond. As I sat there watching the ducks and pondering the vagaries of union politics in Chicago, my cell phone rang. It was an alderman, calling about this or that.
"Did you hear that SEIU Local 73 donated 25 grand to Mayor Rahm?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"What were they thinking? The dude's got, like, $7 million in his bank account."
"Now he's got $7 million and $25,000," the alderman said.
Then he laughed. As always, Chicago, the joke's on you.