Mayor Rahm Emanuel reiterated Wednesday that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has assured him she won’t run against him next year, even as the mayor’s political team appears concerned about a potential Preckwinkle challenge.
The County Board president looms as the most formidable foe to Emanuel. So far, she repeatedly has refused to rule out a run for mayor, saying only that she’s focused on her Nov. 4 bid for re-election as county board president.
Emanuel has said Preckwinkle told him privately earlier this year that she wouldn’t run for mayor, a point Emanuel made Wednesday when asked whether he was concerned about her as an opponent.
“I trust her when she’s said multiple times that she’s not running,” Emanuel said. “I think she’s a person of her word.”
But an email sent Wednesday by the mayor’s chief campaign consultant, John Kupper, suggests the Emanuel camp is preparing for the possibility.
Kupper emailed Tribune reporters to suggest several potentially negative stories about Preckwinkle. The pitch came in response to a Tribune story Wednesday about Blaine Elementary Principal Troy LaRaviere criticizing Emanuel for trying to silence critics of his education policies.
LaRaviere’s criticism, first expressed in an op-ed piece in the Sun-Times, created a fresh political wrinkle in the opposition Emanuel has faced on his education policy: It came from a well-respected African-American principal at a high-performing school in the heart of the mayor’s North Side base.
In the email, Kupper included what he called “some story ideas that might actually matter to readers.”
He then offered a list of story ideas, many centering on Preckwinkle’s handling of county government that could present her negatively, some based on rumor.
Asked Wednesday if his campaign consultant’s email is an indication he was afraid of Preckwinkle running against him, Emanuel dismissed the question with a wave of his hand and walked out of his news conference.
The situation drew a response from Preckwinkle’s camp.
“Toni has repeatedly said she’s running for re-election and is focused on cleaning up Cook County government,” said Ken Snyder, Preckwinkle’s campaign adviser. “I think the mayor would serve Chicagoans a lot better if he focused less on opposition research and more on doing his job.”
Campaigns scouting potential opponents and suggesting negative stories is a decades-old political practice. But what makes the move by Kupper somewhat unusual is that it came nine months before the mayoral election and centered on a person who has not declared she is running.
But for the campaign of Emanuel, a seasoned political operative who cut his campaign teeth working to elect former Mayor Richard M. Daley and former President Bill Clinton, pushing bad Preckwinkle stories early could be seen as a tactic aimed at convincing her not to run.
By late Wednesday, Kupper called his email “inappropriate” and apologized to his boss and Preckwinkle.
“This morning, of my own volition and without consulting anyone, I sent what I considered a private email to a couple of Tribune reporters complaining about a story they wrote and what I believe to be generally unfair reporting about Mayor Emanuel,” Kupper said in an emailed statement.
“I regret any discomfort that I have created for Mayor Emanuel, County Board President Preckwinkle or anyone associated with their offices,” Kupper wrote. “From now on, I’ll keep my media criticisms to myself.”
Emanuel will complete his third year in office Friday, and already has amassed a campaign war chest that tops $7 million compared to about $1 million for Preckwinkle, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.
Preckwinkle is expected to coast to re-election in November, and if she chose to run against Emanuel after that election, she would have less than four months to wage a campaign before city voters go to the polls in late February. While that would give her little time to raise money, it also would give a better-funded Emanuel less time to try to define her for voters.
On Wednesday, Emanuel emphasized that he has worked cordially with Preckwinkle, pointing to their collaboration to cut costs and to provide job training for workers in the city. “We work together,” the mayor said.
Preckwinkle recently was asked on WTTW Ch. 11’s “My Chicago” about her relationship with Emanuel. She said the two had breakfast, calling the meeting “a pretty policy-driven, pithy conversation.”
Asked if she got along with Emanuel, Preckwinkle took a long pause and then five seconds later said, “Um, we work together.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun