Chicago, The City that Works where city politics is Business as usual
Politics is probably the place where the reality that life is not fair is played out. Most think that money wins however the Obama presidential win in 2004 proved that it’s strategy, knowledge, intellect and skill. This year’s Chicago mayoral race has been a battle from the beginning. daily new news provides the voter with more information about the last candidates standing upon which to make their choice on April 7 at the polls. We expect our politicians to be shrewd, smart, savvy, connected and knowledgeable. We want to believe that they are men and women of integrity. We know that they know things we don’t know and we entrust our faith in their ability to make the right decisions to benefit all and serve the country, state and city best. However when we earn of how the the business occurs we get all indignant. Life is not always pretty. It is in fact messy. Such is the act of giving birth or even the act that causes creation. Life is messy. However we work with what we have and make the best of it.
A week before the February city election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stood alongside Earvin “Magic” Johnson and his billionaire business partner to announce their $10 million donation for a summer jobs program in the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Many of which are located on Chicago’s South side, others on the west side where many of the inhabitants are Black. It’s obvious that the announcement was meant to be a feather in the Mayor’s cap.
The event with the NBA Hall of Famer was orchestrated by the mayor’s office and aimed to smooth a rough spot in his first-term resume — the notion that he had not done enough to reduce crime and increase opportunity in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
But that’s not all Johnson and his partner did to help Emanuel. Four days after the news conference, the week-old company Johnson formed with partner Mark Walter to fund the jobs program donated $100,000 to Emanuel’s campaign. Last week, with Emanuel still locked in a tough runoff battle for a second term, the company gave Emanuel $150,000.
And at the same time, the Emanuel administration has been good for Johnson. It’s the old quid pro quo.
Last year, the Emanuel-appointed Chicago Board of Education awarded one of Johnson’s companies — SodexoMAGIC — an $80 million contract to provide custodial and facilities management for Chicago Public Schools facilities.
Four years ago, Emanuel came into office promising to end the “insiders game” that benefits only the well-connected. But the “Magic” Johnson relationship is just the latest example of a hallmark of Emanuel’s governing style — his deep reliance on political cash from business interests who can count on City Hall or the mayor himself to help them. But all politician rely on campaign contributions. And the contributors expect favoritism. It’s the way it is. Those who tell you other than that are not being honest.
Four years ago, Emanuel came into office promising to end the “insiders game” that benefits only the well-connected. But the “Magic” Johnson relationship is just the latest example of a hallmark of Emanuel’s governing style — his deep reliance on political cash from business interests who can count on City Hall or the mayor himself to help them. So Emanuel told the people what they wanted to hear because if he told you what is so, he would not have won. In the movie “A Few Good Men,” the Jack Nicholson character tells the Tom Cruise character, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.” True dat. Most people cannot handle the truth yet they want the bells and whistles.
In January, the Chicago’s Republican paper detailed how Emanuel raised more than $14 million through 2014 from an elite group of 103 contributors, 60 of which received some benefit from him or his administration. The circle of donors, made up of investment firms, developers, law firms and restaurateurs, received contracts, permits, appointments or personal mayoral endorsements.
Now, as Emanuel fights to fend off challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, many of those same donors are renewing their support in an unprecedented fundraising blitz for a Chicago mayor’s race that is pushing Emanuel’s two political funds to nearly $20 million for this election. In addition, a super political action fund supporting the mayor has raised another $3.6 million, much of it from his most loyal donors.
- Emanuel accepted $50,000 in contributions last month from two executives at Related Companies, whose Chicago branch Related Midwest has put up major buildings along the lakefront and the Chicago River and took over the deed to the site of the failed Chicago Spire. The donations are on top of the $77,100 in contributions Related executives have given Emanuel since he took office. The Emanuel-controlled Plan Commission signed off on the company’s next major project, a 67-story tower at 451 E. Grand Ave., in December and the City Council signed off on Jan. 21. A little more than two weeks later, the Emanuel campaign logged the two $25,000 contributions.
Emanuel on Jan. 20 visited the office of Context Media for an event listed as “non-city” on his official calender, a term that often signals a fundraiser or other campaign-related appearance. Donations from two Context Media executives were recorded that week, totaling $10,000. Less than a week after the visit, Emanuel was back at the business for a promotional jobs announcement where he called the company a key player in the city’s tech scene and a place where “ideas are formed.”
- The mayor collected $25,000 from more than a dozen people connected to the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, which represented Chicago’s interests in the bankruptcy Airlines and was the law firm for JCDecaux in that company’s successful bid for an advertising lease at Chicago’s two airports. His official calendar shows he visited the firm for a lunch Jan. 27.
The Tribune’s January story highlighted donations tied to a new hotel development in River North that features three players who have given to the mayor: Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, White Lodging and Friedman Properties. The complex on North Clark Street features three hotel flags in one complex, and one of Lettuce Entertain You’s newest concepts.
Since the start of the year, Lettuce Entertain You, led by Richard Melman, has given the mayor another $156,000, records show. Bruce White of White Lodging has donated another $50,000 and people associated with Friedman Properties, led by Robert Friedman, have donated another $31,000.
Emanuel has declined requests to discuss his fundraising practices but in a brief exchange earlier this month he said businesses give to him because they support his leadership.
“We follow the law specifically,” Emanuel said when asked why it was appropriate to take campaign contributions from donors who need City Hall approval. “And we follow everything to the letter.”
And here’s the thing, that’s what we want of our politicians, right? To follow the law is fair. Of course we’d love for them to be compassionate and have a commitment to humanity. That should be priority however over the years we have witnessed that those who demonstrate such prove to be anomaly
Last month’s news conference wasn’t the first time Emanuel stood alongside Johnson and Walter, the head of Guggenheim Partners investment firm, for a city event. In early 2014 the mayor announced the news that EquiTrust Life Insurance, jointly owned by Johnson and Guggenheim, was opening new offices in Chicago.
Two months later, at the same time Emanuel officials were touting Johnson’s plan for the school system, Guggenheim officials and their spouses donated a combined $101,100 to Emanuel political funds.
The most recent donations come from a newly formed company that the mayor and the businessmen said would send the $10 million donation to social service groups who can provide summer jobs to Chicago youngsters.
On Feb. 13, Inner City Youth Empowerment LLC was created in Delaware, according to the Delaware secretary of state’s office. Four days after its creation, on Feb. 17, Emanuel announced Inner City Youth Empowerment’s $10 million donation. And three days after that, on Feb. 20, the same company made the $100,000 campaign contribution to Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s main political fund, according to state campaign finance records, followed by the $150,000 donation March 13.
The news conference came as Emanuel courted support from African-American voters, a key constituency in the runoff election. Emanuel’s soft support from black voters contributed to his failure to win the multi-candidate February election outright, leading to the runoff with Garcia.
During the Feb. 17 event, Johnson lauded Emanuel’s performance on issues affecting the black community and detailed how Walter made the event happen.
“He called me up and said, ‘Earvin, we’re going to support the mayor. You’ve got to come because this is what you’re about,’ ” said Johnson, who noted he also provides alternative school programs for CPS.
During the news conference, a reporter asked whether Johnson’s presence was a political endorsement of Emanuel.
“The mayor shouldn’t need it,” Johnson quickly replied. “He has it but he shouldn’t need it because he’s doing a wonderful job.”
Emanuel then stepped to the microphone.
“There will be a time for politics. But this is about the kids of the city of Chicago, and don’t take it away from them,” Emanuel said. “And I do appreciate the endorsement.
“And I do want to stand on your shoulders at some point,” the mayor said to Johnson, drawing laughs from the audience.
The contributions do not name Johnson or Walter. They were given in the name of Inner City Youth Empowerment, the company formed by Johnson, Walter, and the Chicago businessman’s wife, Kimbra Walter.
“Inner City Youth Empowerment made a contribution to the mayor’s campaign because Mr. Johnson and Ms. and Mr. Walter believe that the mayor’s efforts to help urban youth and his efforts to gain financial and other support for youth programs is very important to continue the gains that have been made,” Walter spokesman Michael Sitrick said in an email.
Johnson did not respond to calls seeking comment.
The jobs grant will be used to expand the One Summer Chicago Plus program, said Evelyn Diaz, commissioner of the city’s Department of Family Support Services. Once the Emanuel administration picks community organizations to hire and train the youths, they will receive the money directly from Inner City Youth Empowerment, Diaz said.
The contributions from Johnson and Walter came as CPS has branched out its efforts to privatize and centralize the food service, custodial and engineering functions of schools and awarded SodexoMAGIC the plum contract.
In March 2014, the same month as the earlier donations from Guggenheim officials, CPS Chief Administrator Tim Cawley made a lengthy presentation to the school board touting the benefits of the contracts with SodexoMAGIC and another key contractor, Aramark.
“SodexoMAGIC has a dual role for us. We’re bringing them in to provide overall facilities guidance for us from a central standpoint. How do we schedule our engineers? How do we prioritize the maintenance projects they work on today to avoid capital investments a year or two from now because we didn’t do what needed to be done in the building? How do we plan better?” Cawley said.
He said the privatization contracts would ultimately result in $40 million in savings, as well as streamlining custodial and engineering functions to let principals focus more on educational matters.
“SodexoMAGIC has a second role too, in that while we’re making this change we’re going to pilot in 33 schools where they’re going to take over the whole kit and caboodle,” Cawley said. “These are schools that are already entirely privatized with outsourced engineers and custodians, and we’re going to do a trial there where Sodexo manages everything in the building.”
But just six months later, Cawley and board members were on their heels over the poor performance of both contractors. In September, it was reported that complaints about dirty school buildings piled up after CPS hired the contractors. Questions about cleanliness of the schools intensified after Aramark laid off nearly 480 custodians.
“We don’t think we’ve been successful in getting enough schools cleaner, nor have we been successful in simplifying life for principals,” Cawley said at the time.
Johnson has other business interests with CPS. EdisonLearning, a for-profit school contractor, operates the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy, an alternative school program that operates at several locations around the city.
Johnson and Walter are business partners in several enterprises, most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers. Johnson is a partner in the company that owns the Dodgers, called Guggenheim Baseball Management. Walter is the controlling partner of Guggenheim Baseball.
Walter has met at least three times with Emanuel in his office, according to the mayor’s public calendar, including a one-on-one meeting in 2012.
Emanuel met twice in October 2014 with Walter and prominent Chicago attorney Dan Webb, whose firm has handled Guggenheim business. According to the calendars, the meetings included top mayoral aide David Spielfoge