One of Rahm Emanuel's Biggest Critics Endorses His Re-Election
By Bill Ruthhart and Juan Perez Jr
Standing in the basement dining room of a West Loop Greek restaurant Sunday afternoon, Mayor Rahm Emanuel accepted the endorsement of one of his chief antagonists -- former mayoral candidate and outgoing 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti.
"For me, the candidate is Rahm, and on Election Day, I will be casting my vote for Rahm Emanuel as mayor of our city," Fioretti said in delivering his endorsement. "And if you're worried about the financial health of this city, you should do the same. We need not only our financial health of our city to be fixed, but the budget for CPS and you only have one choice."
In showcasing Fioretti's support, Emanuel acknowledged the alderman's status as the mayor's top critic on the City Council, railing against the decisions to close 50 schools, install speed cameras and pass budgets that the alderman has maintained set the wrong set of priorities for the city.
"Bob has been one of my fiercest, strongest critics, but never in our disagreements was he disagreeable. His disagreement was not about our shared vision for the city of Chicago," Emanuel said. "It may have been about how to get there, but his passion and love for the city of Chicago was self-evident. I'm honored and humbled for his support."
Fioretti said both Emanuel and challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia reached out to him for his endorsement and he had discussions with both. The alderman said he thought he'd remain neutral, but as the days wore on he grew more uncomfortable with Garcia's candidacy and the fact the Cook County commissioner had said he'd have a panel of financial experts make revenue recommendations after the election instead of offering those ideas now.
"The city's finances are a serious problem. It's grave, and I don't believe Mr. Garcia is ready to deal with the problems this city faces on the financial front," Fioretti said in an interview before the endorsement. "I don't think he's demonstrated it on the campaign trail, during the debates and especially with his call for a commission to study the city's financial problems."
Garcia has maintained that he can't give clear ideas for fixing Chicago's fiscal woes until he can open up the city's books and conduct audits. In recent days he's countered criticism of that approach by saying he'd support an expanded state sales tax on services to help pay for additional police officers and pursue a graduated state income tax to fill the city's budget holes. Both would require approval in Springfield.
Fioretti acknowledged his backing of the mayor comes as he seeks to retire substantial debt owed to his mayoral campaign. The most recent campaign finance records available from January show Fioretti's political fund owing at least $81,000 in loans, all of it to himself or his law firm. Fioretti said he had contacted a number of unions and other campaign donors about retiring his debt, including the Service Employees International Union, the top contributor to Garcia's campaign.
"I talked to SEIU, yes. I'm reaching out to everyone about retiring my campaign debt, not just one union or any other unions," Fioretti said. "I have considerable debt, and slowly but surely, I will get there to pay it all off."
Emanuel said he would assist in helping Fioretti find the necessary donations but said that's not what the endorsement was contingent on. Fioretti said he'd call Emanuel supporters for help but added there was no quid pro quo tied to his endorsement.
"Of course. I don't have a problem with that. I did that for Carol Moseley Braun and for Gery Chico, because I don't want them to be burdened in any other way," Emanuel said of helping Fioretti pay down his debt. "The fact is, I've done it in the past. I know what it's like to have campaign debt. ... So, the fact of the matter is I've done it before, and I'll do it again. But that's not the reason he's standing here, it's about the future of the city of Chicago."
The Tribune reported in April 2011 that Emanuel appeared at a unity fundraiser to help Moseley Braun retire campaign debt.
Garcia on Sunday started the day appearing before an Austin congregation on the West Side alongside a group of supporters that included U.S. Rep. Danny Davis. Garcia continued to press his message of rebuilding neighborhoods, saying economic development on the South and West sides of Chicago would be critical for crumbling neighborhoods.
"I will end the corporate welfare of giving property tax subsidies -- your dollars, my dollars -- to the rich and wealthy in the city of Chicago to do downtown development. Those funds must be invested strategically in disinvested communities in the city of Chicago," Garcia said.
The Cook County commissioner also noted his education platform had won endorsements from the Chicago Teachers Union and its president, Karen Lewis.
"We will also end the crazy drive to privatization, which does things like keep our schools filthy, where principals are complaining about a lack of attention when teachers can't teach because there aren't basic things in those classrooms such as computers and textbooks and the support personnel in each of those neighborhoods. We need educational equity in the city of Chicago. I'm prepared to lead to make it happen."
Garcia then served as the grand marshal at the Hellenic Day Parade in the West Loop. As Garcia stood near the start of the parade at Halsted and Randolph streets, Emanuel and Fioretti arrived at the Nia Restaurant just a few yards away to make the endorsement announcement.
Later in the afternoon, Emanuel and Garcia appeared separately at an NAACP forum.
Despite instructions to the audience to withhold any expressions of approval or disapproval during the event, Emanuel was heckled by some in the crowd wearing Garcia campaign pins. In contrast, Garcia was applauded and trailed out of the gymnasium by a crowd of supporters.
Asked during the forum about Fioretti's endorsement of Emanuel, Garcia smiled at the audience and then tried to underscore the irony behind the alderman's support of the mayor.
"Ald. Fioretti has been one of the most vocal critics of this administration of the past four years," Garcia said. "I think his observations on how the city has not functioned for ordinary people, for especially lower income communities, were very relevant, continue to be relevant."
"As to why he did what he did, you really have to ask him," Garcia continued, drawing laughter from the audience. "I think he's a good man. About his decision, only he can answer that question."
Fioretti finished fourth in the first round of balloting in the mayor's race last month, earning 7 percent of the vote. Third-place finisher Willie Wilson, who won 10.6 percent of the vote, has endorsed Garcia's campaign.
While Fioretti says Emanuel is best to handle the city's finances, his own campaign for mayor was very much in line with Garcia's argument that Emanuel has focused too much on Chicago's downtown at expense of the city's neighborhoods.
"The mayor's policies have created two Chicagos, and no amount of campaign cash or TV ads can change that fact," Fioretti said the day Emanuel launched his bid for a second term. "Chicagoans want a new direction and are ready for a vision of safe streets and strong neighborhoods."
Fioretti announced his own mayoral bid in September after his fellow aldermen used the remap process to draw him out of his own ward. The 2nd Ward alderman also considered a run four years ago before being sidelined with throat cancer.
"Our current mayor promised so much, and like many of us, I hoped he would deliver. But our schools are being gutted, our streets are not safer and so many are missing out on economic opportunities and jobs," Fioretti said in his speech announcing he'd take on the mayor. "Four years ago, Rahm Emanuel promised he was going to be tough. People voted for tough, but all we got was, 'tough luck'!"
But Fioretti now says Emanuel has been changed after being forced into a runoff with Garcia to keep his job.
"When I met with the mayor, it was clear to me that he's a different person than he was before the last election, because I think he's heard what's happening throughout the city. I think he will be a different mayor in the next four years," Fioretti said. "I think he's a little more humble, no doubt about it. For him to ask for my endorsement, that's a lot different from the Rahm Emanuel I've known before.
"I've always said you need a mayor who is going to be tough, but firm and fair. And I think this time he'll be fair."
Fioretti's embrace of Emanuel, and rejection of Garcia, comes after the alderman was shut out in his bid to be endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union last fall. Fioretti attended a $500-per-table unity dinner for the union last October as he courted the union, only to see a video unveiled at the event featuring union president Karen Lewis endorsing Garcia.
Fioretti's campaign complained at the time that the alderman had been blindsided by the move, which came before a formal vote of union members. Lewis had been preparing her own campaign for mayor before receiving a cancer diagnosis. She then recruited Garcia to run.
But Fioretti said his endorsement of Emanuel had nothing to do with sour grapes with the CTU, one of Garcia's top backers. The alderman also said he had not cut any deal with Emanuel in exchange for his backing.
"I'm just making a decision here on what's best for our city," Fioretti said. "That's it. Period."
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