Just a couple of hours after state Comptroller Susana Mendoza gave her campaign victory speech Tuesday night, some of her supporters and allies of Mayor Rahm Emanuel already were busy pointing out her strong performance in Chicago.
Mendoza, they noted, won 85 percent of the vote in the city, drawing almost 30,000 more votes than Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and 22,000 more votes than Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the chair of the county Democratic Party who was unopposed for a third term. Those results, they contended, would bode well for Mendoza in a scenario she continues to explore: a run for Chicago mayor.
Mendoza spent the last few months of her comptroller campaign saying she was focused on her statewide race while refusing to rule out a run for mayor in the wake of Emanuel’s surprise decision in September to drop his bid for a third term. Now, with the comptroller race behind her and petitions on the street seeking to get her name on the ballot for the Feb. 26 city election, Mendoza will have to announce soon whether she will move forward with a campaign to run the nation’s third-largest city.
In less than two weeks, some of the 16 already-declared candidates will begin submitting their petitions, with the final deadline to do so just a week later.
Sources familiar with Mendoza’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering say she has long been laying the groundwork for a mayoral campaign. Mendoza had called numerous potential donors and union leaders telling them she intended to run in an effort to keep them on the mayoral sidelines until after Tuesday’s election, sources confirmed.
“She has not been shy,” one of the sources said. “She has actively been running for mayor for weeks now.”
A second source agreed, saying Mendoza was reaching out to Emanuel allies and donors within 48 hours of the mayor’s announcement that he would not seek re-election. The sources, including two who have spoken directly with Mendoza in the aftermath of Emanuel’s decision, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to relay the private interactions.
Mendoza was not available for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman said she had not set a timeline to announce a decision on a mayoral run. The former Chicago city clerk and state representative already had been considering a run seriously enough to record video clips for possible mayoral campaign ads, including a seven-second snippet that leaked last week. Advisers said Mendoza recorded clips saying she was running for mayor while filming comptroller ads, so she would be ready to move quickly should she decide to run for mayor.
“I’m considering a run for another office and have taken steps to prepare for that should I choose to move forward but I have not made any formal decisions,” Mendoza said in a statement last week after the video leaked.
Part of Mendoza’s mayoral consideration has included tapping the services of an Emanuel ally to help her navigate the decision — political strategist Becky Carroll, who served as chief Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman in the mayor’s administration and ran an Emanuel-aligned Super PAC as part of his successful bid for a second term in 2015.
In a brief statement, Carroll said she and Mendoza have been “lifelong friends.” If Mendoza were to run for mayor, Carroll said, she “would gladly serve as one of her advisers,” but she stopped short of confirming any role in helping the comptroller prepare for a mayoral bid.
Carroll’s involvement and some of Emanuel’s allies pointing to Mendoza’s Chicago numbers Tuesday night are the most noticeable tea leaves yet that some of the top policy and political aides in the mayor’s orbit are starting to gravitate toward a Mendoza candidacy.
Many in Emanuel’s reliable network of big-money donors, however, largely have kept their powder dry and made no financial commitments, sources said, while a few have started to break for onetime U.S. Commerce Secretary and former Obama White House chief of staff Bill Daley, the brother and son of two former mayors. Some of Emanuel’s contributors and top labor supporters, however, still could end up aligned with Mendoza, who has been a favorite among the city’s major trade unions that were instrumental in Emanuel’s re-election bid four years ago.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Mendoza didn’t spend much time looking forward to a four-year term as comptroller. Instead she reviewed her experience serving as a fiscal check on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner while highlighting her life experiences, including playing competitive soccer, that helped her develop a reputation she has cultivated as a political fighter.
Mendoza took the stage to “Eye of the Tiger,” a Survivor song famous for being featured in the boxing movie “Rocky III.” Soon after she thanked her 83-year-old mother, “the original Susana Mendoza,” whom she called the “the only person who tells me what to do. Period.” She also gave a nod to her late father and an appeal to labor unions whose support she would seek in a mayoral run.
“I’m the daughter of a Teamster pipe fitter, and I’ll always be my father’s daughter,” Mendoza said. “It’s been my honor to stand up to Gov. Rauner and his sick quest to destroy the hardworking men and women of organized labor.”
At the same election celebration Tuesday night, Preckwinkle declined to comment on the possibility of a Mendoza campaign. Preckwinkle’s allies, though, already have begun to privately point to Mendoza’s Springfield voting record, which they argue has been at odds with progressive pushes for criminal justice reform.
Mendoza backers and allies of the mayor, however, were quick to point out that the comptroller pulled more votes Tuesday in Chicago than Preckwinkle, despite the County Board president not having an opponent. Mendoza reeled in 696,596 votes compared with Preckwinkle’s 674,357, according to unofficial results. Unlike Mendoza, Preckwinkle’s race was not featured at the top of the ballot, and voters are not always as motivated to vote in an uncontested race.
Still, the Chicago returns show Preckwinkle trailed three other down-ballot unopposed county officials. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, County Clerk nominee Karen Yarbrough and County Treasurer Maria Pappas all pulled at least 30,000 more votes than Preckwinkle. The lower total could in part reflect a lack of enthusiasm from some voters in the wake of Preckwinkle’s controversial 2016 enactment of a sweetened beverage tax that was repealed last year under political pressure from the beverage lobby and disgruntled taxpayers.
Mendoza served as Chicago’s city clerk from 2011 until 2016, when she won special election for state comptroller against Leslie Munger, whom Rauner appointed to the office after Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died in 2015.
As for Mendoza’s possible mayoral bid, Emanuel wanted no part of that conversation Tuesday, declining to address the possibility at a City Council news conference. And after soaking in the spotlight at Pritzker’s rally Tuesday night, Mendoza went dark Wednesday with no public schedule.
At City Hall, however, the speculation continued as aldermen and aides mused about whether Mendoza would follow through on her prematurely released mayoral announcement. They also offered varied opinions on whether pivoting from Tuesday’s victory directly into a race for mayor would hurt her with voters at all.
“I don’t really see her turning around and running for mayor as difficult. President Preckwinkle just won, and she’s running. If that’s acceptable, I’m sure it will be acceptable for Susana,” said longtime Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, who serves as Emanuel’s City Council floor leader. “The timing is tight, but this is an unusual election season for mayor of the city of Chicago. We’ve never had one like this.”
If Mendoza made a mistake, O’Connor said, it was not being more upfront early on and simply confirming she was considering a mayoral run. O’Connor said that would have aligned her more with Preckwinkle’s approach, but he said it also was understandable that Mendoza wouldn’t want to distract from the rest of the statewide ticket by publicly eyeing Emanuel’s seat.
Veteran Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th, said he expects Mendoza to get in the race. He said he doesn’t think recording the “Mendoza for mayor” snippet while running for comptroller will resonate much with voters.
“I think people realize we’re in the season of politics and people are trying to sabotage other people,” Solis said. “And we knew, at least I did, that she was seriously thinking about running. So I don’t think it’s a problem.”
The optics of winning one office and immediately ditching it to seek a bigger one won’t go over well with some Chicagoans, predicted Southeast Side Ald. Sue Sadlowski Garza.
“I like Susana Mendoza, but I’d like to see her stay in Springfield, because she is making a difference there,” said Sadlowski Garza, 10th. “Running for one office, with one foot on one side and one foot on the other, I know a lot of people I’ve heard from — this is not my opinion — but they feel deceived.”
Sadlowski Garza, who has yet to back a candidate for mayor, said she’s worked with Mendoza in the past and described her as “awesome” and “great.” But with 16 candidates already running, she said it probably would be best if Mendoza sat this one out.
“The mayoral race, as my son likes to say, is a burning clown car,” Sadlowski Garza said. “How many people can we get in there?”
Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne contributed.
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November 8, 2018 at 05:24AM