Some Rahm Emanuel allies gravitate toward Susana Mendoza as she preps likely run for Chicago mayor

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.

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from some voters in the wake of Preckwinkle’s controversial 2016 enactment of a sweetened beverage tax that was repealed last year under political pressure from the beverage lobby and disgruntled taxpayers.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.”

Susana Mendoza commits to four years as comptroller — if Gov. Bruce Rauner wins re-election »

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.

Twitter @BillRuthhart

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November 8, 2018 at 05:24AM

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