CITY HALL – A former aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to report Wednesday that he raised more than $194,000 in the first 60 days of his campaign to unseat 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith.
Derek Lindblom, 36, who lives in Lincoln Park with his wife and 15-month-old son, said he is running to modernize the way aldermen represent their constituents by combining the political savvy he honed during the three years he worked for Emanuel and the business and technology expertise learned while working for a venture capital fund.
“We are really proud of the the breadth and depth of support for our campaign,” Lindblom said. “It is real proof that there is a desire for change, and we are in a position to win.”
Lindblom’s haul is more than second-place finisher Caroline Vickrey raised during the entire 2015 campaign, according to campaign finance records. Smith, first elected to the City Council in 2011, won a second term by just 79 votes.
Vowing to be a “new kind of alderman,” Lindblom said he would use technology to connect residents — even those who are not tech savvy. One example could be linking neighbors able to shovel snow with those who need help, perhaps through a smart phone app for 43rd Ward residents, Lindblom said.
“It is not just responding to service requests but also being proactive and getting people involved and connected,” said Lindblom, who also promised to hold more ward-wide events. “I will think of the office in a new way.”
Now on a leave of absence from health care venture capital firm 7wire ventures, Lindblom said he would not hold outside employment if elected alderman.
Aldermen are really mayors of small cities, which means they have a chance to “innovate and do great things, Lindblom said, adding that he has always been someone who has a “million ideas and examples.”
To get a chance to implement any of those ideas, Lindblom will have to defeat Smith and two other challengers, Jacob Ringer and Scott Goodrich.
Ringer left his job as a development manager at mHUB, a physical product startup incubator, in March to campaign full time, and said he has knocked on 1,500 doors since then.
Ringer gave his campaign $90,000 last week, according to reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections, to ensure that his campaign would have the “mark of viability,” Ringer said.
Scott Goodrich, a senior project manager in Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office, reported May 17 that he had not raised any money through June 30. Goodrich did not return a request for comment about the 43rd Ward race.
Sean Tenner, Smith’s campaign manager, said the alderman was taking all three challengers seriously.
“We know it is going to be a hard-fought race,” Tenner said. “We are definitely on an accelerated schedule. Every alderman should be prepared to organize at the grass-roots level.”
Smith has approximately $266,000 in cash in her campaign account, according to the Illinois Sunshine database.
Smith spent nearly $654,000 in the 2015 race to keep her seat on the City Council. In addition, Chicago Forward — a political action committee supported by Emanuel and designed to elect his allies to the City Council — spent more than $78,526 to bolster Smith.
She voted with the mayor 85 percent of the time between June 2015 and March 2017, according to former 44th Ward Ald. Dick Simpson, who tracks how often the City Council “rubber stamps” the mayor’s proposals as a political science professor for the University of Illinois Chicago.
Although she ultimately voted to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) DIstrict along the CTA’s Red, Purple and Brown lines, Smith questioned the district boundaries and whether the Emanuel-backed effort would benefit the residents of the 43rd Ward.
While Smith has been a reliable vote for the mayor, she cast one of two votes a year ago against sweeping zoning changes backed by the mayor that set to stage for the one industrial North Branch Industrial Corridor to be transformed into a new neighborhood.
Smith said the plan approved by the council invited a “land rush” along the 760-acre, 3.7-mile stretch of land on the Chicago River between Fullerton and Kinzie avenues and did not include enough park space or do enough to address traffic congestion.
In recent weeks, Smith has been working with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) — who cast the other no vote against the massive rezoning — to create a 24-acre park along the river. It is not clear how the city would foot the plan’s $200 million bill.
Lindblom said he shares Smith’s goal of bringing more open space to the 43rd Ward, but said he would focus on increasing park space not only along the river but also elsewhere in the ward.
In addition, Lindblom said he would focus on addressing concerns about traffic congestion and increasing the number of transit options for 43rd Ward residents, particularly those traveling east and west to and from the Kennedy Expressway.
Any development along the North Branch must also plan for the impact new residents will have on the area’s schools, Lindblom said.
“I really want to focus on the entire [kindergarten through 12th grade] system,” Lindblom said, adding that he is committed to sending his son to Chicago Public Schools.
While declining to criticize Smith directly, Lindblom said he would work, if elected, to “integrate” the Lincoln Commons development now under construction on land that was once Children’s Hospital and help mitigate the impact of new residents and increased traffic on nearby businesses and residents.
In addition to deciding the fate of the land along the Chicago River, aldermen elected in 2019 will also have to pay a huge bill for the city’s employee pensions. City officials will have to figure out how to cover a $400 million increase due in 2020 under a state law that will bump up the city’s required contributions to its four pension funds.
Lindblom, a 2008 graduate of Harvard Law School, starting working for Emanuel in 2011 as part of his transition team and stayed on after the mayor took office and was responsible for crafting a plan to address the city’s massive pension shortfall.
That shortfall was bridged — at least for the short term — largely thanks to several massive tax increases, including a 2015 property tax increase worth $589 million. That tax hike, the largest in Chicago’s history, was followed by a 30 percent increase in the water and sewer tax in 2016.
“There are few issues that are tougher than pensions,” Lindblom said. “I learned a lot about how to run the city and how to get the city to work in the mayor’s office.”
Lindblom said he would work to bring people together to hammer out a solution, while ensuring that the City Council has a hand in crafting the ultimate agreement.
“I want the City Council to lead on issues like pensions,” Lindblom said. Leaving it to the mayor is like attacking the issues “with one hand tied behind our back,” he added.
Former Deputy Mayors Mark Angelson and Steve Koch have each given Lindblom $5,600 — the maximum allowed under the city’s campaign contribution caps. Those caps would be lifted if Ringer gives his campaign another $10,000, under state law.
In addition, Lindblom is represented by political operative Tom Bowen, who served as Emanuel’s top political aide until he ventured out on his own in 2012.
Emanuel’s campaign did not respond to a question about whether the mayor would support his former aide over his ally Smith in the 43rd Ward race.
Lindblom said focusing on the mayor’s role in the election would do a disservice to the real issues facing residents of Lincoln Park and Old Town.
“There is a desire in the media to make it all about the mayor,” Lindblom said. “We should focus on the 43rd Ward and electing a great City Council.”