08/27/2014 09:24 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

Guzzardi Undecided Over Mayoral Endorsement

State Rep-elect Will Guzzardi, who has quickly emerged as a progressive rock star for clobbering State Rep. Toni Berrios in the March Democratic primary on Chicago's near west side, caused eyebrows to twitch a few weeks ago over what appeared to be an endorsement of a Karen Lewis mayoral bid.

"This morning, famed historian and American Civil Rights Activist Timuel Black and Progressive Activist State Rep. Will Guzzardi fanned and further spread the flames of The Karen Lewis For Mayor Movement at a fundraiser titled "Bagels for Karen" at the home of Susan and Mike Klonsky," according to an August 4 post on the Karen Lewis for Mayor Facebook page.

An endorsement?

Not so, says Guzzardi.

Asked about the post, the lawmaker-to-be told me that it was "overzealous."

"I've not made any endorsements," said Guzzardi whose victory over Berrios, backed by both House Speaker Michael Madigan and her father, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios, was powered, in part, by a powerful independent voter precinct operation, the type of political muscle IVI-IPO used to possess before it morphed into a questionnaire-from-hell book club.

In fact, Guzzardi claims that he is undecided on whether he'll make any endorsement even after the field of candidates is in place.

"I haven't figured that out yet," he said.

Still, Guzzardi headlined the Lewis event in his legislative district. Additionally, the CTU disclosed on August 4 a $5,000 contribution to Guzzardi, actions that likely fueled speculation about his intentions.

Guzzardi explained that the Lewis event, which was "packed", was borne of "frustration" with events in the city and a desire to assess the political impact of the perceived unease.

"There are a lot of people frustrated with the direction of the city," said Guzzardi. "I'm really interested to see how that frustration will play out."

He also admitted to his own angst over Chicago's future.

"I'm definitely frustrated with the way things are going in the city," Guzzardi said. "Huge swaths of the city are ignored."

The ex-Huffington Post-Chicago associate editor pointed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to close six of the city's mental health centers as a key grievance of his, a decision that hit hard the heavily Latino district that Guzzardi will represent in Springfield.

"There are now no bi-lingual mental health centers in the city," Guzzardi stated.

Despite the inescapable rise in 2015 mayoral election attention, he insists that his priority is November.

"My focus is November," Guzzardi said. "I think that any progressive public policy is in jeopardy if Bruce Rauner is elected."

Guzzardi says that he is marshaling the energy of his precinct operation to back the "Raise Illinois" minimum wage campaign, an effort to push likely Governor Pat Quinn voters to the polls.

"Our organization in the 39th District is already out knocking on doors," said Guzzardi who held his first canvass a couple weeks ago with 25-30 field volunteers and has a second canvass planned for early September.

He is not only marshaling foot soldiers, but also cash.

In the second quarter -- even though he has not even a token GOP opponent in the fall -- his campaign account was boosted by hefty donations from organized labor: $10,000 from AFSCME, $15,000 from the Illinois Education Association, and $15,000 from SEIU. Those contributions helped put his cash-on-hand at $92,000, an astonishing sum for someone who has yet to enter the General Assembly and much more dough than many currently endangered House Democrats.

While Guzzardi is planning his next minimum wage canvas, Emanuel was recently in New York City showcasing his support for a minimum wage hike and basking in the glow New York's newly minted progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, and his family with the aim of sending a message to progressives back in Chicago, like Guzzardi, "Hey, I'm on your side."

Could Emanuel's embrace of a minimum wage increase, for example, help draw Guzzardi's support in 2015 or least neutralize his opposition?

Hard to know.

Emanuel has not yet bothered to speak with Guzzardi since his win nearly six months ago.

"I've not spoken to the mayor," said Guzzardi. "I look forward to a conversation with him and I would urge him to adopt policies that serve all of our communities."

No call to a guy who not only won big but who also increased Chicago voter turnout in a non-presidential year?

You gotta be friggin' kidding us.

A photo op with Mayor de Blasio under the crystal chandeliers of Gracie Mansion is all well and fine -- but how many precinct workers does the mayor of New York have in Chicago's 39th House district?

Moreover, the voters that helped elect Guzzardi are also the voters whose support Emanuel has lost, according to the new Chicago Tribune poll. Perhaps a photo-op with a Chicago progressive -- maybe, let's see, like... Guzzardi! -- might play well with Chicago progressive voters.

Nevertheless, Guzzardi's professed indecision on a mayoral endorsement may not be just a pose, because he disclosed Tuesday that he has substantially committed himself to working in behalf of 45th Ward Alderman John Arena's reelection.

"I will do something considerable for Alderman Arena. He's ruffled some feathers," Guzzardi said. "I look forward to supporting him in a big way."

That may be Rahm's best endorsement news yet.


David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller, The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.