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Analysis: Overpromising could come back to haunt Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced changes parking meter contract thwill he claims will save city billidollars. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced changes to the parking meter contract that will he claims will save the city a billion dollars. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 2, 2013 6:35AM



Maybe it’s a way of putting pressure on himself and his staff or a sign of his rush to pile up accomplishments that can be used in a run for higher office.

Maybe it’s his place as the middle child in a family of overachievers.

Whatever it is, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is setting himself up for ridicule by overpromising, making bold savings claims that can’t be verified and by issuing a conveyor-belt of press releases that tout his every move as the first, the best and the only.

Aldermen roll their eyes and talk privately about the Emanuel spin machine all the time. But only a handful dare to talk publicly about it for fear of alienating the mayor.

The problem surfaced again this week when the Chicago Tribune poked holes in Emanuel’s claims about shrinking the city’s food deserts by 21 percent to honor a pivotal campaign promise to African-American voters who helped put him in office.

It was only the latest example of Emanuel hyperbole and moving the goal line when he falls short.

The mayor campaigned on a promise to hire 1,000 additional police officers, then revised the pledge after taking office by adding 1,000 more “cops on the beat,” more than half of them by disbanding special units.

Emanuel’s promise to save $60 million by switching garbage collection from a ward-by-ward to a grid system has also fallen short — by $42 million. Inspector General Joe Ferguson was thwarted when he tried to verify even the revised $18 million savings claim.

The mayor touted his $1.7 billion Infrastructure Trust as a ground-breaking vehicle to get private investors to bankroll projects the city could not afford to build on its own. But the Trust is still stuck in neutral more than one year later.

Emanuel sold speed cameras around schools and parks as a way to protect children, then used $30 million in anticipated fines to balance his 2013 budget, fueling speculation it was all a ruse to raise sorely needed revenue. The city has yet to raise a penny.

The mayor’s handpicked school team lowballed the amount of money cut from Chicago Public School classrooms by factoring in increases in charter school funding.

Emanuel’s projected, $338.7 million shortfall in 2014 may also turn out to be a lowball figure when police overtime and tens of millions of dollars in settlements are factored in.

Sources said the mayor instructed his top aides that Chicago taxpayers “want to see progress” and that, no matter what, they needed to project a shortfall smaller than it was last year.

Yet another example occurred Thursday, when the mayor broke ground on a new $50 million CTA Green Line station near McCormick Place.

City Hall refused to say how much, if any, of that price tag would come from a $2 parking tax, cleverly billed as a “congestion fee” even though it was confined neither to rush periods nor congested downtown and River North.

Two years ago, top mayoral aides cited the Cermak station as one of two downtown transportation projects that would be funded by the parking tax and used the project to sell the unpopular tax.

On the one-year anniversary of Emanuel taking office, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about the new mayor’s obsession with controlling the media message and packaging his plans as new, even when they’re not, using catchy new slogans like, “Building a New Chicago” and “Elevate Chicago.”

The newspaper wrote that Emanuel’s plans too often either overpromised cash savings, lacked specifics or distorted the facts to fit the script.

Now well past midterm and gearing up for a re-election bid, it’s past time for the mayor to heed that advice.

Nobody can accuse Emanuel of failing to make it a priority to eradicate food deserts for inner-city residents with precious few healthy shopping choices. What they can say is that he promised too much too soon, then revised his own definition of food deserts when he fell short of delivering.

That’s a credibility problem that can only get worse.

Email:

fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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