Mayoral candidates put money where their mouth is

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Courtesy mayor's office.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Courtesy mayor’s office.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he election grows ever closer and as we near Feb. 24, candidates challenging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are raising what money they can to pay for staff, events and the all powerful, television campaign ads.

It’s no secret that you can’t enter politics without money to back you up and the candidate with the most at his disposable should come as no surprise. The incumbent Mayor Emanuel’s beginning campaign balance is at nearly $30 million, according to campaign contribution reports.

There is a wide range to what a candidate needs to spend to win a political race, said David Melton, Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy organization.

“Candidates need about $1-2 million to run a race,” said Melton. Although he cautioned that these are informal targets to effectively run a campaign.

Currently, data shows us that the challengers with the war chest values closest to Emanuel’s are Ald. Bob Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. Both challengers have raised about $1.7 million, according to government data.

Willie Wilson, who recently donated $1 million of his own money to his campaign, has raised about $1.6 million.

William “Dock” Walls III raised almost $50,000, according to government data. Much of the money donated comes from Walls himself.

But, despite the candidates raising money to battle the incumbent mayor, Emanuel has more than double the amount of all the other candidates money collectively.

Much of Emanuel’s wealth has come from donors outside of Chicago, including United Airlines, the AT&T PAC and the Fox Family Network. This is opposed to the other candidates who have either donated their own money or relied on small contributions from more local based institutions.

But money isn’t everything in an election, according to Kristi Sanford, a spokesperson with The People’s Lobby, an organization lobbying for progressive candidates.

What is most important for candidates is to get their message heard.

“Challengers need to have enough money to get their message out to those voters who are disenchanted with the mayor, but they don’t need to raise nearly as much money as Emanuel has in order to do that,” wrote Sanford in an email.

Since November, Emanuel has spent money on television ads pushing his campaign and dominating the airwaves while other candidates have held back.

Some critics say that Emanuel has no choice.

“He needs to spend that much money to repair his image,” said candidate Walls.

One of the big ways candidates will be able to showcase their platforms and message is in the upcoming mayoral debates. The first of which is scheduled for Tuesday.

The challengers are preparing for the debates in different ways.

Walls said that he is reviewing policies, history and “obtaining a clear grasp of the city’s issues.”

Garcia said he was researching finance, reviewing the structure of departments and the efficiency of the government.

“I’m preparing and making the best case possible for candidacy,” said Garcia.

Fioretti and Willson’s approaches are a bit more relaxed.

“I am going to be myself, like I am. When I don’t know, I don’t know. I’m a business man, I tell the truth,” said Wilson.

Fioretti may sit back and watch the others fight it out, said Fioretti spokesperson, Mike Kolenc. Their team will focus on getting their message out at candidate forums around the city, he said.

In the end though, there can be only one mayor in Chicago. And in the event of a runoff between two candidates, money will still be needed to run a campaign. According to Sanford, serious candidates will be preparing for a prolonged battle.

Possibly though, the two candidates in the runoff may have an easier time raising money because they will look like more realistic options for donors to pour their support into, said Melton.

But until then, expect to see a growing number of ads and challengers spend money to get their message out as we approach the election date on Feb. 24.

“I don’t think it’s a money issue,” said candidate Wilson. “I’m not trying to buy my way in. I’m running for the people”

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