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Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration kicks off with concert, service, rain

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel kisses his daughter Leah 11 Petrillo BShell during Inaugural Weekend Festivities for Rahm Emanuel Saturday May 14

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel kisses his daughter Leah, 11, at the Petrillo Band Shell during the Inaugural Weekend Festivities for Rahm Emanuel Saturday, May 14, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 27, 2011 12:33AM

A poncho-wearing Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel blended in with a small, soaking wet crowd Saturday afternoon at Grant Park during a concert to kick off his inauguration.

About 200 people braved a blustery afternoon to hear the band Chicago and lend their support to Emanuel.

The three-hour concert, which also featured other local artists, capped a day of pre-inaugural festivities that included service projects attended by an estimated 3,000 volunteers.

Emanuel watched the show’s early acts with two of his children from folding chairs in front of the Petrillo Music Shell, occasionally shaking hands with well-wishers.

Later, when he took the stage to introduce the band Chicago, Emanuel said: “I don’t think there’s anything more fitting to give us what we need spiritually to . . . begin to take on the challenges facing this city.”

He added, “We have a lot of challenges, with a lot of opportunities to do big things for this great city.”

Emanuel remained on stage with his two daughters as the band played a lively 30-minute set that included such hits as “25 or 6 to 4” and of course, “Saturday in the Park.”

The soggy weather didn’t deter Linda E. McDowell, of West Pullman, from bringing her two grandchildren, 7-year-old Nairobi Toombs and 8-year-old Jabril Hull, to Grant Park.

“I wanted them to be a part of this because it’s history and they’re my legacy,” McDowell said, adding that she sees “great promise” in Emanuel.

For Oak Forest resident Susan Powell, meanwhile, seeing Chicago perform was the main draw.

“They’re my favorite group,” she said, while seeking refuge from the rain under some trees. “I just wish it would have been a nicer day. This place would have been packed.”

Earlier on Saturday, Emanuel, his wife, Amy Rule and their three children along with City Clerk-elect Susana Mendoza; Treasurer Stephanie Neely, and dozens of local gardeners worked together to prepare two community gardens for the growing season. Emanuel encouraged Chicagoans to get involved.

At the nearly one-acre community garden at 6500 S. Woodlawn, Emanuel looked comfortable wielding a shovel, but said that at his Ravenswood home’s garden, his wife was more likely to be planting and weeding.

“This is your city,” he told volunteers. “We all have a role to play.”

At his second stop, the immaculate Fulton Street Flower and Veggie Garden, 4427 W. Fulton, gardeners Sammie and Angela Taylor said they were “very excited” to see the new mayor come to the vacant lot next to their home.

The lot, now transformed with pink and white flowers and lush green plants, will get a greenhouse next week thanks to a grant. At both gardens, any excess produce is donated to local food pantries.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Sammie Taylor of the call from Emanuel’s transition team about a visit. “It’s just a wonderful thing. It’s good for the neighborhood and good for the whole community.’’

Geraldine Jones, 66, and Eloise Harvey, 82, longtime residents who live nearby on Fulton, said they would like to see Emanuel in the neighborhood more often. They said their neighborhood is overrun with drugs and crime, two stubborn problems that planting flowers isn’t going to solve.

Jones said that while she doesn’t doubt Emanuel’s commitment to improving city life, she believes he needs to get everyone on board.

“He’s got to have the people who work for him do something,” she said.

Emanuel told gardening volunteers he also wanted to work on improving the Chicago River for sports such as kayaking and canoeing.

“The river is the next recreation frontier for the city,” he said, adding, “I don’t know about swimming.”

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