Like many other big players in national politics, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has relied for years on campaign cash from California to fuel his career.
But on Thursday in Los Angeles, scores of Californians who want to oust the mayor in Chicago’s April 7 election joined forces at fundraising receptions for Emanuel’s challenger, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
The events downtown at Disney Hall and at a private home in Santa Monica drew largely on discontent among some Democratic donors with Emanuel’s record on schools and immigration.
“People know that taking out Rahm Emanuel and sending a message is a big deal,” Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said at the gathering of several dozen Westside liberal donors in Santa Monica.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which went on strike in a clash with Emanuel, is leading the campaign to bounce the mayor. Emanuel has closed dozens of the city’s most troubled public schools.
In Santa Monica, Garcia accused Emanuel of trying to impose a “corporate agenda” on schools. Garcia also compared himself to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and that mayor's crusade against income inequality.
“We are on the cusp of a major statement to be made to the rest of the country -- that we won’t tolerate the types of cronyism and corporate welfare that have come to exemplify the reign of Rahm Emanuel,” Garcia said.
Hostility toward Emanuel, a former congressman who was President Obama’s first chief of staff, drove much of the crowd’s enthusiasm.
“He just takes the money from the poor and gives it to the rich,” said Dorothy Reik, president of Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains.
At Disney Hall, the crowd was mainly Latino political and business leaders. They applauded Garcia’s call for immigration reform. In interviews, several of them denounced Emanuel for blocking progress on immigration while at the White House and as a key leader of Democrats in Congress.
“He’s had a major role in derailing immigration reform for many years,” Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo said. “People know that.”
Emanuel has argued that dramatic changes were necessary to improve Chicago’s threatened schools system. On immigration, he had counseled within the administration for a go-slow posture on changes to the nation’s immigration laws, arguing that swifter movement threatened the electoral chances of some Democrats and that the economic recovery took precedence. As mayor, he has supported the president's protections of immigrants in the country illegally and has declined to cooperate with deportations.
Emanuel campaign spokesman Steve Mayberry declined to comment specifically on the criticisms raised in Los Angeles.
Garcia, who immigrated from Mexico when he was 9, would be Chicago’s first Latino mayor. He is a Cook County commissioner and former state senator.
Garcia’s campaign expected the Los Angeles events to yield $200,000. At Disney Hall, Kathy Ochoa of Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West told Garcia the union had just sent his campaign an additional $100,000.
With $20.2 million raised, Emanuel is far outpacing Garcia in fundraising. Garcia has collected $3 million.
California donors have been a major source of money for Emanuel -- $1.1 million for his reelection campaign. They include film director Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
Emanuel twice has reported accepting house stays from Geffen on his ethics disclosure forms. During separate trips, he visited the Silicon Valley home of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and the Beverly Hills mansion of billionaire entertainment mogul Haim Saban, according to the mayor’s official calendar.
Geffen has given Emanuel’s campaign $150,000; Spielberg, $100,000; and Schmidt, $55,000. Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg has given $35,000 to Emanuel, and billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad has contributed $130,000.
A key resource for Emanuel’s fundraising is his brother Ari, one of the top agents in Hollywood. Since 2010, Emanuel has reported $165,000 in campaign contributions from employees of William Morris Endeavor, where Ari Emanuel is co-CEO.
Bill Ruthhart of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.