Chicago has seen its share of odd political bedfellows this election season. The trend has been a typical (if cynical) one for this city: past opponents of the mayor falling in line, helping to ward off any potential challenge to the machine.
In early February, Congressman Bobby Rush — previously a vocal critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who in July slammed the mayor’s mass school closings while urging Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to mount a challenge — reversed course and endorsed Emanuel.
Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, a prominent Republican, publicly voiced support for Emanuel in early March, with a dog-whistle warning that if the mayor isn’t re-elected, Chicago could end up like Detroit.
And over 70 union locals have come out in support of the mayor, despite his well-established anti-union record. UNITE HERE has even funded an ad campaign in which their members credit Rahm Emanuel and his “Rahm Love” for victories on the job, rather than their own dedicated work.
But perhaps the most striking case of political treachery in this election came on Saturday night, when former progressive alderman and mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti made a perfect about-face and endorsed Rahm Emanuel.
Fioretti had been one of Emanuel’s fiercest critics, both in the City Council and the mayoral race, before he was eliminated in the February 24 election. He failed to capture enough votes to challenge the mayor in a runoff, and lost his aldermanic seat due to redistricting. On the eve of that vote, Fioretti stated that he would support “anybody but Rahm” in a runoff election.
Now that the runoff is a reality, however, Fioretti appears to have had his own “Come to Rahm” moment, reneging on his previous condemnations of a mayor he once described as having “failed us by every measure.”
On issue after issue in the campaign, Fioretti pulled no punches when going after Emanuel, from school and mental health clinic closings to giveaways of taxpayer money to large corporations, red light cameras, and the horrid plague of shootings facing the city.
But now, just over a week away from the runoff election, Fioretti apparently has concluded that all of these criticisms should be sidelined because Emanuel has a fiscal plan for the city — a plan Fioretti not so long ago said “doesn’t solve the problem” and “shortchanges Chicago’s long-term future.”
At a benefit concert for Rahm Emanuel’s progressive challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on Sunday night, Grammy-award winning rap artist — and former 20th Ward aldermanic candidate — Che “Rhymefest” Smith claimed that Fioretti had “no integrity” after endorsing the mayor.
Smith also presented a red-light ticket on stage, blasting Emanuel for unfairly raising revenue on the backs of low-income city residents, before ripping it up into shreds in front of the crowd to loud applause. Garcia has vowed to take down the city’s red-light cameras on his first day in office as mayor.
Rhymefest’s torn-up red light ticket at Sunday night’s Chuy Garcia concert. (Micah Uetricht)
The charge that Fioretti has now lost any claim to integrity has been echoed across the city. On Monday, the Chicago Reader published a damning satirical account of Fioretti’s rationale behind the endorsement, highlighting his past criticisms of the mayor. David Schaffer, a Garcia adviser, tells Chicago magazine that he’s “not sure the endorsement means much because I don’t think Bob has much credibility left.”
Former mayoral candidate Amara Enyia — who herself endorsed Fioretti after dropping out of the race in December — tells In These Times that she wasn’t expecting the endorsement of Emanuel.
“Because of his record, it was surprising to me,” Enyia says. “It was definitely a shift in direction. But I’m sure he accepts the consequences and did his own set of analyses.”
It seems that one of those consequences could be paying down Fioretti’s massive campaign debt, with the help of Emanuel and his large donor base.
When asked at a joint-press conference about the likelihood that the endorsement would result in financial help for Fioretti’s beleaguered campaign fund, both he and Emanuel indicated that it was in the cards. Asked if he would approach his donors to help retire Fioretti’s campaign debt, Emanuel responded, “Of course. I don’t have a problem with that.”
On Sunday, members of Chicago’s Mental Health Movement crashed a lunch between Emanuel and Fioretti, in an action attempting to “Buy Back Bob” by raising money to pay off his campaign debt in order to compete with Emanuel’s vast warchest — and buy back his friendship with the mental health community.
Fioretti had previously spoken out strongly against Emanuel’s closure of half of the city’s mental health clinics, and advocates are furious over what they see as Fioretti’s spurning of them by coming out in support of Emanuel.
“He sold us out,” says N’Dana Carter, a Mental Health Movement activist. “He has been courting us for two years, guaranteeing us he would work to get the clinics open, even before he ran for mayor. And now he turns on us.”
Of the “Buy Back Bob” campaign, Carter explains, “we are trying to pay him to have him come back from the dark side. Rahm Emanuel wants to close the clinics, which means Fioretti is now dirty. We can never trust anything he says. He has turned on the people.”
“We were crushed when we found out. Right at this moment we have a person here that is homeless based on what Rahm Emanuel did. We are tired of this,” she says.
Neither Emanuel nor Fioretti ruled out any political appointments or favors as a result of the endorsement. Now that Fioretti is no longer an alderman, he could be looking for any kind of help he can get in resurrecting his political life.
But after years of denouncing Rahm Emanuel’s policies, and being one of the few dissenting, progressive voices in the City Council — to turn on a dime and throw his support behind a widely-despised mayor just ahead of a historic election is likely not a good look.
Unless, of course, Fioretti is just now showing his true political colors.
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Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is a Web Editor at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter @MilesKLassin