CHICAGO- Looking to counter efforts by organized labor and its allies to elect a more pro-working families city council in the Feb. 22 election, the Chicago Chamber of Commerce announced it's endorsement of 35 aldermanic candidates Jan. 26.
And without regard to appearances, Chamber President Jerry Roper also announced the formation of a 20 member Jobs and Growth Caucus in the council to promote greater collaboration for a pro-business environment. Roper said this was the first time in the history of the council that such an open collaboration would exist.
"What we want from the council is to take a look at those impediments to growth for companies," explained Roper, who was surrounded by the aldermen. He cited the need for a business friendly tax and regulatory environment.
But a reporter pressed Roper to explain more of what was meant by promoting jobs and economic growth (after all who could be against that?). Did it mean opposition to an employee head tax, passage of a living wage ordinance for large retailers and other measures advocated by labor?
Roper responded, "You know where this chamber has been on the head tax. Taxes are not even a word you're allowed to use when you walk into the threshold of this Chamber. We have enough and where has it got us. We need regulatory policies that encourage businesses to come here."
Roper emphasized his unhappiness with the fiscal policies being advocated by the mayoral candidates as a reason why the Chamber has thus far declined to make an endorsement. He said collaboration between the business community and caucus was necessary to solve them. "We need to review the city pensions, and get ourselves out of this mess," he said.
"Chicago must be open for business," said Ald. George Cardenas, owner of a check cashing store who has prospered on immigrants sending remittances to their home countries.
"We hear from New Jersey, Wisconsin, Indiana (all headed by Republican governors) - everyone's attacking this state, this city that they're better than us. And in this form I think we have a message to send to them that we will compete at every level, every detail, to get businesses here so they can stay here, and prosper in this glorious city," said Cardenas.
The Chamber announced the Jobs and Growth Caucus would be chaired by Alderman Tom Tunney, himself a restaurant owner.
In an interview in the Sun Times reacting to the announcement, SEIU Illinois State Council President Tom Balanoff said the decision to include Cardenas and Tunney "sends the wrong message" because both incumbents have "opposed paying workers a living wage."
"Chicago's economic recovery cannot be hinged on creation of minimum wage jobs or businesses that take advantage of immigrants," said Balanoff. "That's not a gateway into the middle class. Chicago needs an economic recovery that reaches into all sections of the city and lifts up all of its residents."
Chamber of Commerce PAC vice-president John Rosales said the PAC was working in close collaboration with leading business associations, including the Building Owners and Management Association of Chicago, Hospitality Business Association of Chicago, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association and Illinois Restaurant Association.
The announcement is part of an effort to prevent a repeat of the loss of Chamber supported candidates in the 2007 election. The endorsements include several aldermen high on labor's priority list for defeat including Bernard Stone, Danny Solis and Howard Brookins.
The effort to elect pro-business candidates follows a similar announcement Jan. 9 of the creation of the A Better Chicago PAC that has already raised $1 million to pour into council races.
"This is just a beginning, said Roper. "This is the Chamber of Commerce and Political Action Committee wellness program for advocacy in the future. This Jobs and Growth Caucus is the heft behind making this work."
Photo: John Bachtell