A challenger has emerged to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in next year’s re-election campaign, and it’s not the lakefront liberal or progressive stalwart that City Hall critics had hoped would be the standard bearer.
Instead, it’s Robert Shaw, an old-school politician known for teaming up with his late twin brother, switching political allegiances, ending up on government payrolls and fighting the Jackson family in a political career that’s spanned several decades.
In his latest incarnation, the 77-year-old former Chicago alderman and Cook County tax review commissioner launched a mayoral campaign Thursday criticizing Emanuel for closing dozens of Chicago Public Schools and cutting the benefits enjoyed by retired city workers.
“You’ve got to be fair, and to get up and come out to a school and shake some kids’ hands, that won’t get it. That won’t cut it,” Shaw said at a news conference at a Bronzeville hotel. “I think he took (the African-American vote) for granted the last time, and African-American people elected him. And it has not been reciprocal as far as he’s concerned.”
The Chicago Teachers Union and other groups have called for a credible challenger to Emanuel to step forward for 2015. Shaw is perhaps not what they had in mind.
Shaw last held elected office in 2004, when he sat on the board of review that looks at county tax assessments. He lost a bid for Cook County assessor in 2010. In between, he was hired by his brother, then-Dolton Mayor William Shaw, to serve as the south suburb’s inspector general.
The Shaw twins were notable political characters for decades, known for their similar hairpieces and their feuds with the Jackson family for control of South Side and south suburban politics.
The Jacksons came out on top, then U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former Ald. Sandi Jackson ended up with federal convictions.
Robert Shaw served two separate stints as alderman, representing the Far South Side 9th Ward. He won in 1979, then lost in 1983 while backing Jane Byrne for mayor over Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley. Shaw came back to win again in 1987, that time as a Washington supporter.
While on the City Council, Shaw helped head up an unsuccessful push to remove the image of a tall-masted ship from the city seal on the grounds it represented slavery. In 1981, he pushed a plan to allow nearly all 40,000 jobs then on the city payroll to be patronage hires.
Shaw served as alderman until 1998, when he won election to the tax appeals board. His son, Herbert Shaw, tried to succeed him on the council, but lost to Anthony Beale, who continues to represent the 9th Ward today.
Shaw, who said he moved to Hyde Park from South Holland in December, outlined a campaign strategy of pulling together a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos and others dissatisfied with Emanuel’s policies. He dismissed the huge financial advantage the mayor will have over him in the campaign. “Money is to get name recognition. I have name recognition,” Shaw said.
Emanuel did not address his potential opponent Thursday. “There will be a campaign season,” the mayor said when asked about Shaw. “We’re in the governing season. And the best way to get ready for the campaign season is do your job in your governing season.”
Beale said Shaw “has absolutely not a chance. He’s not our choice. He’s his own choice.”
Shaw said he can't worry about whether his candidacy could split the city's African-American vote if another, better-financed black candidate gets into the contest. “I'm officially announcing today for mayor of Chicago,” he said. “Any other person that comes forward is splitting.”
Amara Enyia, a community organizer who worked in the Daley administration, has formed a campaign committee to run for mayor.
Shaw also said he isn't concerned about the possibility President Barack Obama will throw his support behind the re-election of Emanuel, the president's former chief of staff. “We know (Emanuel) now. We don't have to take anybody's word,” he said.
Tribune reporter Bill Ruthhart contributed.