Chicago may be a flyover city for the elite in Los Angeles. But personal checks appear to be dropping from their Gulfstreams as they pass overhead -- and right into the coffers of Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel.
The former presidential chief of staff left scant doubt late Thursday that he's the frontrunner to succeed retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, the longest tenured head of a major American city, as he disclosed he's raised a stunning $10.7 million as of Dec. 31.
In addition, he transferred $1.1 million from his federal campaign fund dating to three terms as a congressman. The nearly $11.8 million swamps his three leading rivals, with Gery Chico, an attorney and former city official, the next closest for the same reporting period, at $2.3 million.
And while the Emanuel campaign sought to underscore that there were 2,494 individual contributors, with 74 percent of them living in Cook County and more than half giving $250 or less, the real story is the head-turning sums for a Midwest mayoral election from very far away.
Israeli-born Hollywood producer Haim Saban and his wife contributed two checks of $110,000 each. Those alone would constitute a sizeable percentage of the total raised by two of Emanuel's three leading opponents for the nonpartisan election set for Feb. 22. If one doesn't receive more than 50 percent of that vote, the top two finishers wind up in a runoff.
David Geffen ($100,000), Stephen Spielberg ($75,000) and Eli Broad ($25,000) are among the L.A. notables contributing and doing so just before a Jan. 1 change in Illinois law limiting individual contributions to $5,000 each for primary and general elections. Others giving to Emanuel included Apple boss Steve Jobs and wife ($100,000), Facebook founding partner Sean Parker and entertainment industry figures Jeff Katzenberg ($25,000), Terry Semel, Garth Ancier and agent John Fogelman.
23 individuals wrote checks of $100,000 or more, with eight coming from out of state. Among the 75 donors who gave at least $50,000 are two prominent business figures from the "Right Coast," namely New Yorkers Donald Trump and Ronald Perelman.
"Impressive," was the email response from one of Chicago's wealthiest businessmen when I told him about the total haul and identities of some donors.
By comparison, rival Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American female to serve in the United States Senate, raised $450,660. City Clerk Miguel del Valle earlier indicated that his war chest is meager, with about $150,000.
The early conventional wisdom of a likely runoff may soon dissipate, especially given the coincidence of a Chicago Tribune-WGN-TV poll released Thursday. It suggests that Emanuel has a huge lead over second place Moseley-Braun and might be on his way to a Feb. 22
Tactically, it will be interesting to see if his increasingly frustrated opponents at least try to turn the prodigious fundraising report against Emanuel and portray him as in some way beholden to outside interests.
Then, again, the minds of many locals appear to be more focused on Sunday's Bears-Packers NFC Championship game than what has become a more spirited election campaign in recent weeks.