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Emanuel hailed for reaching out in inaugural speech

Rahm Emanuel  before he takes his oath become new Mayor Chicago  with VP Joe Biden wife Amy Rule

Rahm Emanuel before he takes his oath to become the new Mayor of Chicago with VP Joe Biden and wife Amy Rule and Dr. Jill Biden. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: June 18, 2011 12:34AM

Mayor Emanuel’s call for shared sacrifice and an end to city government as we know it was warmly received on Monday, in part, because the stakeholders know Chicago’s financial crisis leaves the new mayor no other choice.

“There was a lot of speculation that he would come out swinging. Instead, he came out with his hand extended, the right touch,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“Clearly, we’re gonna have to look at the way government is organized. That may results in some layoffs. Hopefully, it’s done through reorganization and attrition. But, we can’t leave anything off the table.”

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) added, “We have hard choices to make. I’ve been saying that for a while. We need more revenue or we need to decrease our costs. ... We’re gonna give him the benefit of the doubt unless and until it’s determined that those words ring hollow, but I don’t believe that.”

Lou Phillips, business manager of Laborers Union Local 1001 representing refuse collection workers, was asked if he felt threatened by Emanuel’s claim that Chicago taxpayers “simply can’t afford the size of city government that we had in the past.”

“Maybe he’s talking about managers,” Phillips said. “I’m not worried about losing [union] jobs. We can do it, if not cheaper, about the same price” as the private sector.

In 1983, Mayor Harold Washington used his inaugural address to declare an end to “business as usual.”

Then-Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak (10th) portrayed it as a declaration of war against the City Hall power structure — and used it to organize 29 aldermen, most of them white, against Washington. Council Wars was born.

This time, Emanuel has already convinced a majority of aldermen to sign on to a City Council reorganization that reduces the number of standing committees from 19 to 16 and cuts spending by 10 percent, or roughly $470,000.

Even more important, is the severity of the city’s financial crisis.

Chicago is facing an annual structural deficit of $1.2 billion when unfunded pension liabilities are factored in. Daley sold off parking meters, downtown parking garages and the Chicago Skyway and spent most of the money to hold the line on taxes in his last two budgets.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, predicted a honeymoon for the new mayor before “special interests start closing in and we have to fight through them.”

O’Connor was asked to predict what services Emanuel would farm out or eliminate after stacking his financial team with private sector experts who specialize in privatization, mergers and acquisitions.

“It may not necessarily be privatization. It may just be making a more flexible workforce — putting people where they can be in more than one department at a time. The skills translate. Maybe that’s the way we’ll go,” O’Connor said.

The applause for Emanuel’s inaugural address wasn’t limited to aldermen and union leaders.

“It was very clear what his priorities are. Clear also was his determination to work with everyone to achieve them. So, it’s a new moment and one filled with hope,” said Cardinal Francis George.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. added, “He reached out. He has good intentions. He has a broad vision. We have the right leader. … He’s right that we must share responsibility and share resources. But, we need enough resources. …We are abandoning cities.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he has no doubt about Emanuel’s ability to succeed in the face of enormous financial challenges.

“Rahm is strong — awesomely strong,” Geithner said.

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