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Special delivery from Emanuel: Cheesecake, $50,000 of it

It’s the tell-tale sign that someone has arrived squarely on the good side of Mayor Rahm Emanuel: They get a specially-delivered cheesecake.

Since Emanuel first started running for mayor in October 2010, he has spent more than $51,000 on cheesecakes, all from Chicago’s famous Eli’s Cheesecake Co.

“He’s wagered cheesecakes. He’s paid off debts with cheesecakes. He sends cheesecakes to corporate CEOs he’s trying to romance to come to Chicago,” said Pete Giangreco, Emanuel’s campaign spokesman. “Cheesecakes are the currency of Rahm.”

Not surprisingly, Emanuel’s dessert spending habits ebb and flow with the election cycle. And lately, with Emanuel ramping up his campaign for a second term, Eli’s business from the mayor has been booming.

In a nine-day span in April alone, records show Emanuel spent about $10,000 from his campaign fund on cheesecakes, many of them sent as a thank you to donors who have helped fill his re-election bank account with $8.9 million.

Go back to the Emanuel’s last two campaigns for Congress and his time running the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and records show he has spent more than $83,000 in political cash at Eli’s.

That’s enough to buy more than 2,750 cheesecakes and who knows how many calories.

During an 11-week period from October 2010 through January 2011 when Emanuel was full-steam into his run for mayor, he spent more than $21,000 on cheesecakes, according to state campaign records. About a month after he won, Emanuel recorded spending another $9,400 at Eli’s.

Then came a drought.

Chicago for Rahm Emanuel, the mayor’s main political fund, didn’t spend any money at Eli’s for the rest of 2011 or in all of 2012.

But as Emanuel began to crank up his campaign fundraising again last year in anticipation of running for a second term, Eli’s again was making hundreds of more cheesecakes for the mayor. Since September alone, Emanuel has spent more than $19,000 at Eli’s.

Giangreco says the cheesecake spending is so regular now that Eli’s bills the mayor’s campaign quarterly.

Federal election records show Emanuel’s Congressional campaign started buying from Eli’s in 2005. When Emanuel represented the North Side’s 5th Congressional District, Eli’s headquarters and bakery were in his district.

At the time, Emanuel already was well-known as a hard-charging political animal who sent a dead fish to a pollster he was unhappy with while working on 1988 Congressional campaigns.

Eli’s owner Marc Schulman first remembers getting a lot of business from Emanuel in 2005, when the then-Congressmen was head of the DCCC and started sending out cheesecakes to recruit candidates he hoped would help Democrats regain control of the U.S. House, which they did.

“We were the flip side to the dead fish,” Schulman deadpanned. “He wanted to send something from the district, and the cake became very popular and it became one his signature item.”

In 2006, the Tribune reported a phone conversation between Emanuel and Jack Conway, who at the time was considering a run for a Kentucky Congressional seat. Emanuel asked Conway if he got his delivery.

“You like the cheesecake? Which one did you get? Oh, that’s good. You know it’s Eli’s famous cheesecake from Chicago,” Emanuel said at the time, adding that he was five-for-five in recruiting candidates who had received cheesecakes.

The Tribune also reported that on the eve of the Nov. 2006 election, Emanuel sent 70 cheesecakes to the Democratic challengers he had spent nearly two years coaching to win seats in Congress. Sure enough, campaign finance records show the DCCC getting billed to ship 70 cakes at $48 a pop — a total tab of $3,350.

These days, Emanuel mostly sends the cheesecakes as a thank you, Giangreco said.

The mayor has a personal list of friend he sends the cakes around the holidays, but the campaign sends most of them out to political donors who have given the maximum $5,300 contribution allowed under Illinois law.

“If you max out, you get a cheesecake,” Giangreco said with a chuckle. “It’s the most expensive cheesecake you’ll ever buy.”

Schulman says on occasion he meet members of Emanuel’s cake club.

“I have met people who have gotten our cakes as gifts from the mayor, and I think that’s pretty nice,” he said. “We’re happy to have the business, and certainly any time we can be a symbol of Chicago, it’s good things.”

When Emanuel was running for mayor in 2011, he toured Eli’s and Schulman honored him with a massive birthday cheesecake. Last November, Schulman said they helped the mayor celebrate his 54th birthday with his favorite desserts.

“Last year, we did his birthday cake, but he also does really like pecan pies,” he said. “So, we did a pecan pie, too.”
All of Emanuel’s cheesecakes always come with the same note, Giangreco said.

“Thank you, and enjoy one of Chicago’s best. – Rahm.”

bruthhart@tribune.com
Twitter: @BillRuthhart

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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