The majority of 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti’s fellow City Council members will tell you he has no chance against Rahm Emanuel in the upcoming mayoral election.
“It’s delusions of grandeur,” 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno told the Tribune when Fioretti announced his decision to run last month.
“I don’t know where Bob’s base is. Good luck to him,” said 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brooks.
According to a September 12 Tribune article, four out of five Chicagoans claim to have no opinion on his campaign. In other words, Bob Fioretti’s name is little known outside his horseshoe-shaped ward. But with a dismal thirty-five percent of Chicagoans approving of Rahm Emanuel’s actions and policies as mayor, a dearth of other serious contenders in the race, and fewer than 150 days until the election, “Fioretti” could very well be the next buzzword at dinner tables across Chicago.
Born to an Italian father and Polish-American mother in Roseland on the Far South Side, Fioretti traces the roots of his progressive policies and career as a civil rights lawyer to his humble working-class upbringing. Fioretti has spoken out against the shuttering of public schools and mental health clinics across the South and West Sides, actions which he believes are contributing to crime in the city’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods. One of three aldermen to vote against the recent Emanuel budget proposal, Fioretti has also formed a small progressive caucus within City Council alongside eight other Emanuel critics.
The Fioretti campaign believes that the biggest flaws in Emanuel’s policies also happen to be the most critical issues on the city’s South and West Sides: crime and violence, namely.
“He (Emanuel) is spending his time raising money and traveling around the nation, and every weekend someone gets shot in this town and no one’s addressing it,” said Marcus Ferrell, Fioretti’s campaign manager, in an interview with the Weekly. Unfortunately, Fioretti himself was not available for comment.
Like many anti-violence activists around the city, the Fioretti campaign believes increasing police presence and implementing tighter gun-control laws is only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The Emanuel Administration has voiced similar opinions.
“Alderman Fioretti would come up with a comprehensive plan to address crime in the city,” said Ferrell. “We need to make our schools and mental health clinics stronger. We need job creation outside of the Loop on the South and West Sides. A systemic approach needs to be created because, right now, these issues are not being addressed.”
As part of his announcement to a hundred-person crowd at East West University in the Loop, Fioretti proposed raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2018. He also vowed to implement a one-percent commuter tax on the 600,000 people who drive into the city each day from neighboring suburbs.
Explaining Fioretti’s reasoning behind the tax, Ferrell said, “You got people outside the city who are enjoying the welfare and infrastructure of the City of Chicago and not putting anything into it. You should be able to pay your fair share and help fix our streets.”
Several years ago, Fioretti was quoted in an interview with Chicago magazine saying, “I think being mayor of this city is the toughest job there is.” Even so, he has long considered a run for mayor, often receiving criticism for his grandiose political ambitions. In 2010, ambitions for a mayoral run were put on hold by a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. So why did Fioretti decide to take the plunge this September?
“Crime,” said Ferrell. “Jobs. Fifty-one schools getting shut down. A new school getting opened on the North Side called Barack Obama High School, a slap in the face to the South Side. Chicago needed it. The South Side needed it. It was time to have more than one voice.” (Emanuel’s office are now considering alternative names and locations for the selective-enrollment high school.)
In response to Fioretti’s official running announcement, the Emanuel campaign released a statement saying, “Time and again, Alderman Fioretti has shown no backbone for making tough choices and little respect for Chicago taxpayers’ pocketbooks…Chicago needs, and has, a strong leader who is willing to make tough decisions.”
Fioretti’s tenuous relationship with the Emanuel Administration and other City Council members was tested in 2012 when the boundaries of his ward, which included portions of Bronzeville, Little Italy, and the South and West Loop, were re-drawn roughly eight miles to the north. For most aldermen, the new boundaries ensured re-election by concentrating black, white, and Latino voters into separate wards. But not for Fioretti: he claims that the new boundaries “set [him] up for defeat” and that he has lost his established stronghold of support.
“The (Emanuel) administration looks at Fioretti as a critic, you know, they call him a critic, and some people do, but to me he’s very important when you only have a handful of people in the progressive caucus actually questioning our broken policies,” said 32nd Ward Alderman, and fellow progressive caucus member, Scott Waguespack in a conversation with the Weekly. “I think he is leading the way in City Council, looking at things differently.”
Although he is popular among his ward (even post-redistricting) for his progressive policies and ability to juggle a heterogeneous population with, at times, conflicting interests, the question remains: where will Fioretti’s support lie, both demographically and financially? Karen Lewis, the leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, announced on October 13 that she had a brain tumor and will not pursue a bid for mayor, a move that has left Fioretti as a leading progressive candidate in the race. But he is not the fierce grass-roots community organizer that Lewis is. Nor is he the nationally known former White House Chief of Staff that Mayor Emanuel is.
Alderman Waguespack believes that Fioretti’s backing will have to come from all parts of the city; he has experience working in “a very diverse ward…listening to people in all communities across the city.”
“I think Karen has a lot to offer on education policies, but I think Alderman Fioretti has a very well-rounded background in terms of knowing what the legal issues are for the city,” said Waguespack (when Lewis was still considering running for mayor).
“The Mayor’s missed a lot of opportunities to connect to people,” he maintained. “He’s stayed aloof to a lot of the problems and issues that people are going through. You look at the school closings. He was very aloof on the school closings. He was like, ‘Hey I’m telling you what’s best for you and that’s how it’s going to be,’ and that same attitude has permeated every aspect of the way he governs. He governs by press release, whereas I think Alderman Fioretti would govern from the community.”
Financing a campaign will also prove challenging, as Emanuel already has the backing of major Super PACs and over $8 million sitting in the bank.
“Our plan is to let our city create the narrative,” Ferrell said. “You can go out into the city and look around. Or you can fight with a war chest. Bob has listened to the city of Chicago. We literally have talked to the folks of Chicago and we know what the real issues are.”