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By Tim Jones and Elizabeth Campbell, Bloomberg News (TNS)

CHICAGO — The Democratic Party is riven over how loud a voice to give its progressive wing. Chicago is that struggle’s new frontline.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has dared to anger his party’s organized-labor allies, is being challenged in the city’s first mayoral runoff by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County commissioner who forced it with backing from the Chicago Teachers Union.

“This is a fight about the soul of Chicago and whether Chicago is going to be a city for working people,” Garcia said in an interview.

On April 7, voters may make Garcia the next Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor who vanquished establishment favorite Christine Quinn in 2013. Another possible analogue: Zephyr Teachout, the law professor who forced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to steer left before she won just a third of the vote in September’s Democratic primary.

For Emanuel, it’s an awkward time to be an Illinois Democrat with enemies in labor. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, a friend and former business associate, is attacking unions as a catalyst of the state’s financial crisis. The governor wants to let municipalities create zones in which union membership is optional in businesses or public jobs with collective-bargaining agreements.

In neighboring Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate, is expected to sign legislation letting employees in union workplaces opt out of membership and dues.

Emanuel’s dilemma echoes that of Hillary Clinton, widely expected to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. She met in December with the darling of the party’s left wing, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, The New York Times reported. She was soliciting policy ideas and possibly co-opting a potential challenger.

“These are the tensions that exist between the progressives and the centrists in the Democratic Party,” said Alan Gitelson, a political scientist at Loyola University Chicago.

Emanuel’s tense relations with elements of his own party date to his days as a White House aide helping President Bill Clinton pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, which unions opposed.

Two decades later, Emanuel has been unafraid to challenge organized labor as mayor of a debt-ridden city. He pushed pension-benefit cuts on employees, fought 30,000 unionized teachers in a rancorous strike and, in 2013, closed 50 schools.

Chicago’s election, while nonpartisan, is fought between Democrats in a place that the party has dominated for decades.

Labor is split. The teachers union, whose 30,000 members must live in the city, backed Garcia after its president, Karen Lewis, a fierce Emanuel critic, decided not to run after a cancer diagnosis.

Bricklayers, plumbers and electricians are among the unions backing Emanuel. Don Finn, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134, called him “the construction mayor.” Still, those workers aren’t required to live in the city, so their impact is harder to measure.

Emanuel’s critics have portrayed the campaign as a referendum on “two Chicagos” — a prosperous downtown where corporate leaders support the mayor, and minority neighborhoods that bore the brunt of the school closings and a 12 percent increase in shooting incidents last year.

Emanuel rejects the argument and notes the passage of a $13 minimum-wage measure during his first term. He also defends closing what he called underperforming and underused schools.

“I didn’t make the tough decisions just because I enjoy it,” Emanuel said at a South Side senior center the day after the Feb. 24 election. “I made the tough decisions because I wanted to see jobs come back.’

The struggle’s backdrop is financial stress. Moody’s Investors Service underscored the threat of insolvency when on Feb. 27 it cut Chicago’s credit rating to within two steps of junk because of mounting pension liabilities. The Baa2 rating is the lowest among the 90 biggest U.S cities, excluding Detroit.

“It takes away the idea that you’ll be able to wait to get into office to come up with a plan,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonprofit government- finance research group.

The third-most-populous U.S. city has $20 billion in unfunded retirement obligations and must pay $600 million into its retirement funds next year. Chicago can’t alter pensions without state legislative approval.

When asked Feb. 25 about the crisis, Emanuel pointed to agreements he had already brokered for two of the four funds. Lawmakers in June approved the restructuring for about 60,000 municipal employees, who will pay more and get fewer benefits.

Other unions sued, and the litigation was put on hold until the Illinois Supreme Court rules on a separate challenge to a state pension overhaul.

Last week, Emanuel said he would use the pact with laborers and municipal employees as a model for police and fire funds.

During a Feb. 25 interview on a public-affairs television program, Garcia wouldn’t commit to tax increases to resolve the pension crisis. He has criticized the school closings, saying in December that he’s considering whether some can be reopened. Last week, he softened that position.

“We’re strapped for resources,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to get into making commitments that will be very difficult to honor.”

Neither campaign is taking labor for granted. Emanuel made sure to greet neon-vested water-department workers across the street from the senior center he visited.

Less than 24 hours after polls closed, Garcia’s campaign issued its first news release, condemning what it called discrimination against pregnant teachers.

Photo: ctaweb via Flickr


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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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