When Rahm Emanuel was a first-time candidate for Congress, Greg Goldner was behind him, quietly marshaling the patronage troops that helped get him elected. When Emanuel ran for mayor, Goldner was there again, doling out campaign cash to elect Emanuel-friendly aldermen to City Council.
And when the rookie mayor was looking for community support for his school reform agenda, there was Goldner, working behind the scenes with the ministers who backed Emanuel's plan.
As consultant to the firm that already supplies Chicago its red-light cameras, Goldner is the architect of a nationwide campaign to promote his client's expansion prospects. That client, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., is well-positioned to make tens of millions of dollars from Emanuel's controversial plan to convert many of the red-light cameras into automated speed cameras.
Emanuel is expected to present his speed camera proposal to City Council on Wednesday, and his aides began briefing aldermen on the plan Monday.
In an interview at his Resolute Consulting LLC offices, Goldner said there is no connection between his political support for Emanuel and the mayor's staunch support for speed cameras. He said he wasn't aware Emanuel was pushing a speed camera plan in his hometown until he read it in the Tribune in late October.
He acknowledged others may have a different perception.
"The fact is you guys are going to write your story, and you know, it's legitimate," Goldner said. "It's a legitimate news story. … I can't dispute it."
In a city long defined by the intersection of political clout and business might, Emanuel campaigned on a pledge to change a culture where government is "an insider's game, serving primarily the lobbyists and well-connected." But the converging interests of the mayor, his political consultant and the camera company are likely to fuel more skepticism about an initiative already labeled by critics as a money grab for the cash-starved city.
Emanuel declined to answer questions about Goldner. But spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said, "There is no connection.
"As the mayor has said, this is about doing the right thing for our children and keeping them safe," she said.
Goldner's unassuming style and California roots belie his critical role in the political careers of two consecutive Chicago mayors. A former campaign manager for former Mayor Richard Daley, Goldner helped command political street armies that also worked to elect Emanuel to Congress in 2002. Goldner was Emanuel's campaign manager in that race.
In late 2010, as Emanuel was launching his campaign to replace Daley, Goldner formed a political action committee, For a Better Chicago, to help elect a pro-Emanuel City Council. The lawyer who helped set up the PAC, Michael Kasper, was defending Emanuel against a ballot challenge that nearly knocked him out of the mayor's race.
Kasper is a state lobbyist for Goldner's camera client, Redflex, an Australian company that counts Chicago as is its largest U.S. customer.
After Emanuel's election, Goldner said, he began working on plans for legislation to legalize speed cameras statewide. To bolster his efforts, he said, in September he retained the services of a key Chicago traffic expert who had just left City Hall.
But Emanuel pre-empted any statewide effort with one just for Chicago. The mayor had a bill introduced in Springfield in October to let him transform much of the city's existing network of nearly 200 red-light cameras into the equivalent of automated radar guns near schools and public parks.
With the Chicago police chief and schools CEO fronting the effort, Emanuel pitched the plan as a child-safety initiative and rolled to a quick victory at the Statehouse, despite questions about the statistics the mayor used to justify the push.
Goldner and Kasper both said they never talked to Emanuel about the camera issue.
But by last fall the interests of Resolute, Redflex and Emanuel had officially converged — though it would be nearly impossible for the public to know.
Mayor's speed cameras would help political ally
Longtime Emanuel backer consults for firm that stands to make millions from city's push for traffic devices
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