Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Progressives split in Chicago race. Can they unite against Daley in a runoff?

With the first round of the mayoral election only a week away, things are starting to get hot and heavy. Progressives are split at least three ways (Toni Preckwinkle, Lori Lightfoot and Amara Enyia) and there's lots of vitriol back and forth among their camps..

Cook County party boss Toni Preckwinkle, with early support from many progressives, including the CTU and SEIU seemed like the clear front-runner a month ago.  The SEIU endorsements alone translated into roughly $2M in cash and in-kind contributions to Preckwinkle and nearly two dozen full-time campaign workers and upwards of 500 part-time volunteers.

Bill Daley, the man from JP Morgan and the candidate without a shred of progressive pretense, has replaced Rahm Emanuel as the darling of Chicago's 1%-ers. They've gone all in on Daley because, 1) they fear a takeover of the city by left-wing insurgents of the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez type and 2) his early lead in fundraising has them believing he's a for-real candidate, who can win.

The irony is that the modern notion of Democratic Partyinsurgency they're so afraid off, goes back to Harold Washington's victory over the Daley machine in 1983. But the latest attempt at building a progressive electoral coalition petered out after the collapse of the Bernie Sanders coalition in 2016 leading to the election of J.B. Pritzker as governor with no real progressive opponent.

The current internecine warfare over mayoral choices results from progressive groups not being able to unify around candidates for mayor and governor two years ago.

Instead, Rahm, their main electoral target with plummeting poll numbers following his Laquan McDonald cover-up and his school-closing debacle, pulled a slick move and abandoned the race altogether, before we had a chance to beat him. Even though #RahmResign was exactly what progressives had been demanding, it took many of them them by surprise, as Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative admitted on our show on February 1st.

Without Rahm as a unifying target, the door was left open for a gaggle of old-line, well-financed Democratic Party regulars to jump in and suck up all the money and organizational support.

Mendoza, Chico, Daley and Preckwinkle, none of whom dared enter the race while Rahm was still in it, all jumped in and immediately got the support and credibility from the party bosses and powerful donors who had been sitting on the sidelines. Daley was the biggest beneficiary with $7M in big-donor money. $2M coming directly from Republican billionaire Ken Griffin.

But the good news is that despite their swollen campaign coffers and TV advertising, none of the party machine regulars or great-white-hope alternatives (Paul Vallas & Gary McCarthy) have been able to create any excitement at the base and break from the pack.

If the vote were taken today, undecided or none-of-the-above would be the clear winner. According to most recent polling, the top 5, including underdog and party outlier, Lori Lightfoot are all with a few points of each other and any two could make it to the runoff, especially if this becomes a low-turnout election.

Lightfoot, who if elected, would become the city's first black, woman, lesbian mayor, is a clear underdog. But she's gained momentum and funding in recent weeks, especially after picking up the Sun-Times endorsement, while Preckwinkle and Mendoza have failed to improve their numbers since being connected to the Burke/Solis scandal.

Progressive Preckwinkle supporters, including those in the CTU and SEIU, who backed her early when union haters Rahm, Vallas and McCarthy seemed like her main opponents, probably did so more because they thought she would win rather than  because of fundamental political agreement. But now they're stuck with her even as her campaign falters and stumbles towards the finish line.

They fear a Lightfoot victory next week will lead to Daley's election in the finals and are training all their tactical guns and money on Lightfoot. For her part, Lightfoot sees Preckwinkle as part and parcel of the Burke/Berrios party machinery and has been gunning for her from the start.

Lori Lightfoot goes head to head with Toni Preckwinkle ally, Rep. Martwick“You were a Joe Berrios surrogate for the entire campaign. You filed this bill [to appoint rather than elect assessor] to profit yourself. Who benefits from a system that’s not changed?” Lightfoot said.
Things really came to a head this week when State Rep. Rob Martwick, closely tied to Berrios and Preckwinkle, tried to disrupt a Lightfoot presser and ended up in a well-photographed head-to-head, David vs. Goliath confrontation with the candidate. Martwick is authoring a bill that would make the County Assessor an appointed, rather than elected position. The bill is obviously meant as payback against anti-machine guy, Fritz Kaegi who defeated Boss Berrios in the assessor's race.

But the damaging confrontation instead meant more bad press for Preckwinkle and the machine. Martwick had to back off, claiming that his bill was only meant as a "conversation starter" while Preckwinkle was forced to issue a joint statement with Kaegi, opposing the Martwick bill.

If all this has your head spinning as you enter the voting booth, join the crowd. Daley seems like the main beneficiary of all this mayhem in the progressive camps, if he and Preckwinkle wind up in a runoff. A Daley/Mendoza runoff is also possible if Preckwinkle continues to stumble.

Amara Enyia, running with big campaign donations from rappers Chance the Rapper and Kanye West, hopes to pick up support from young black activists and hard-left organizers. But she doesn't seem to be gaining traction as the race draws to a close.

But if somehow, Lightfoot pulls an upset on Feb. 26, the whole thing is up for grabs. The progressives only hope is for some kind of reconciliation between Lightfoot, Preckwinkle and Enyia supporters and that's not likely.

But in a close, low-turnout election, anything can happen.

Buckle up and vote.

I'll be AWOL for Friday's Hitting Left show when brother Fred tries to make some sense of all this with Chicago campaign strategist, Joanna Klonsky and Progressive Caucus leader, Ald. Scott Waguespack. But I'll be tuning in to WLPN 105.5 FM, via live streaming on from 11-noon CT. I hope you will join me. 

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