Analysis: Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first 100 days in office
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org August 20, 2011 1:08AM
Talking about his job last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel says it’s “one of the most dynamic and exciting opportunities.” | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:26AM
If Rahm Emanuel had known being mayor of Chicago was this much fun, he likes to joke that he would have “primaried” his political mentor four years ago.
“As I told Rich Daley, ‘You didn’t tell me the truth. You said it was gonna be a good job. It’s not a good job. It’s a great job.’ I tease him about that all the time,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview on his first 100 days in office.
“I’m having a blast. . . . [Wife] Amy and the kids [say], ‘Dad seems happy.’ If you want to see change and see what you’re doing impact people, this is one of the most dynamic and exciting opportunities of a lifetime. . . . It sure beats walking around with the world on your shoulders” as White House chief of staff.
One hundred days is a measurement normally associated with U.S. presidents — not Chicago mayors. But then, Emanuel — who will hit the 100-day mark on Tuesday — is not your run-of-the-mill mayor.
He’s a Washington tornado storming through his hometown — in the first chief executive’s position he has held — trying to tackle the city’s intractable problems with the sheer force of his personality, energy and formidable contacts.
Emanuel likes to win and loves keeping score. Who else would count down his first 30 days in office and mark the occasion by standing beside two giant checklists of promises made and delivered? Who else would race through a transition report most Chicagoans have never read and claim that he has met nearly every one of its 100-day goals?
“I’m proud of this, but I ain’t resting on it,” he said after the 30-day benchmark.
In fact, Emanuel, 51, has approached his first 100 days in office like someone who considers “rest” a four-letter word. The other day, he had sweated through a pre-triathlon workout, met New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu for breakfast and huddled with a corporate CEO about bringing jobs to Chicago — all before 9:30 a.m.
“I don’t know how you maintain that pace,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader. “I’m not suggesting he take his foot off the pedal. But, he needs to work on a personal plan to maintain a balance in his life. He’s no good to us if he’s totally burned out.”
The frenzied pace began on inauguration day.
After being sworn in at Millennium Park, Emanuel raced back to City Hall to issue the first in a series of executive orders on ethics reform as if to draw a curtain on the scandal-scarred Daley era.
The following day, he slashed $75 million from Daley’s final budget.
The fact that nearly half of those cuts would come from reducing the cost of administering $1.9 billion in grant money the city receives each year — wishful thinking, at best — did not stop Emanuel from crossing it off his list of campaign promises.
In his zeal to zip through his checklist, there has sometimes been a shortage of consultation with major stakeholders and a disconnect between Emanuel’s words and actions.
The mayor claimed to have ended unpaid furlough days he called a morale killer when a union agreement mandating them expired on June 30. But by the time he got around to seeking the required City Council authorization, city employees had absorbed two more unpaid days, including July 4.
After dumping a clout-heavy O’Hare Airport concessionaire, Emanuel declared an end to the days when “the fix was in.” But he failed to mention that the new contract had initiated with Daley.
Emanuel has vowed to erase a $635.7 million city budget shortfall without raising taxes, cutting police officers or using one-time revenues.
But he allowed the Chicago Public Schools to do all three no-no’s to maintain class size and make strategic investments in charter and magnet schools, all-day kindergarten and security cameras.
Even the mayor’s claim to have flooded Chicago streets with hundreds of additional beat officers is exaggerated. He campaigned on a promise to solve a severe manpower shortage by adding 1,000 officers not now on the street, 250 of them newly hired with funds generated by tax-increment financing districts.
But 500 of the officers he has returned to beat patrol have been reshuffled from the same deck of cards. They come from specialized units now disbanded.
‘WE’RE NEVER GOING BACK’
Despite those contradictions, Emanuel is clearly a man on a mission when it comes to improving public education and solving Chicago’s daunting financial crisis — even if it means doing battle with organized labor on both fronts.
When his handpicked school board nixed 4 percent pay raises in the teachers contract, he rallied Chicagoans behind that decision by arguing that teachers have gotten two types of pay raises every year since 2003 while students got “the shaft.”
That laid the groundwork for a $150 million property tax increase and it turned up the heat on teachers to agree to the longer school day and school year he muscled through the Illinois General Assembly but has not yet found a way to implement.
The stalemate with city trade unions over cost-saving work-rule changes also was carefully choreographed to build public support.
Before sending layoff notices to 625 city employees, Emanuel made the case for changes that sounded reasonable to the average working stiff.
“Labor should appreciate that public sentiment would probably support him going after them with a pick ax and a meat cleaver,” O’Connor said. “He really is trying to work with them and do it in a more collaborative way than you’ve seen it anywhere else in the country thus far.”
Emanuel said he’s disappointed that union leaders gave work-rule changes the same cold shoulder they gave to his mayoral campaign. But he argued that Chicago taxpayers gained something far more important.
In a $242 million blueprint to cut spending, the Chicago Federation of Labor embraced the concept of “managed competition” between city employees and private contractors to achieve the best price — not just in household recycling, where a managed competition is about to get under way, but at all levels.
“We ended up with a value change of revolutionary proportions in this city where they will now partner on the managed competition — and we can’t come back from it. We’re never going back ever again,” Emanuel said. “In a city with a political culture which is about getting a buddy a job, to shift to a managed competition model where the center of gravity is the taxpayer and the service delivered is up-ending.”
‘THE ROOSTER STRUT’
Although the days of “protecting the city payroll” are over, Emanuel has been relentless in his pursuit of private-sector jobs.
Chicago has added 4,000 jobs since Emanuel took office and he has stood beside six corporate CEOs to claim at least partial credit for those announcements.
“I just wish he didn’t do the rooster strut quite so much,” said a City Hall insider, who asked to remain anonymous.
Emanuel summoned the CEOs of Wal-Mart and other major food retailers to a summit meeting on “food deserts” to pressure them to build stores in inner-city neighborhoods. He also used his Washington clout to lure the NATO and G-8 summits to Chicago next spring.
Never mind that it bumped the giant National Restaurant Association show to another date and forced the Chicago Police Department to brace and train for an onslaught of international protesters that threatens to wake up the ghosts of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
With an eye toward the recent destruction in downtown London, Emanuel acknowledged that there are “potential downsides” for Chicago. But, he argued that those negatives are easily trumped by “all the upsides.”
“It’s worldwide attention the Olympics would provide without the athletes at a much better price,” Emanuel said, referring to Chicago’s first-round flame-out in the 2016 Olympic sweepstakes.
“This is the president’s hometown. He’s bringing 45 world leaders, finance ministers, defense ministers to his hometown to show a great American city. We’re gonna get . . . all this world attention. This is a unique opportunity.”
RICHARD M. WHO?
Not surprisingly, Emanuel was also a powerful force in his first legislative session — and a stark contrast from his predecessor.
Notoriously risk-averse and hands-off, Daley let the city’s lobbyists do the dirty work and seldom succeeded in Springfield.
Emanuel got his hands dirty, made phone calls to fence-sitting lawmakers and scored big-time. He helped muscle through the landmark education reform bill and got the land-based city-owned casino that eluded his predecessor for two decades — even though Quinn is making him wait for the tantalizing jackpot.
The shadow dance with Daley has been a subplot of the first 100 days. Although Emanuel has never mentioned Daley’s name in a negative light, he has trashed his political mentor virtually every chance he gets.
Controlling the narrative, Washington D.C.-style, is everything to Emanuel. And the story line he’s promoting is turning the page from Chicago’s corrupt, mismanaged, deficit-spending past to a refreshing and energetic new era of “transparency” and reform.
To burnish that image, Emanuel has made a show of reining in credit-card spending, eliminating take-home cars and petty cash and forcing out CHA and Park District chiefs he accused of spending taxpayers’ money too freely.
He has dumped so much new information on the Internet — about city salaries, ethics statements, lobbyists and contracts — it’s a wonder the city’s new website doesn’t crash.
Daley was a self-described technophobe. The younger, hipper Emanuel does online interviews and town hall meetings on the telephone and on Facebook. He has a social media director, has called an FM radio station to promote his idea for an Uptown Music District and was in the audience for live concerts by U2, Paul McCartney and Adele.
‘WE CAN DO THIS’
As accessible as he has been, Emanuel’s public appearances are maddeningly choreographed. When he has a controversial announcement to make — such as raising school property taxes or cutting Ald. Edward M. Burke’s bodyguard detail from four active police officers to two retired cops — it’s likely to happen on a Friday afternoon when bad news is traditionally buried.
When he announced his decision to send his three children to the pricey University of Chicago Lab Schools, the information was leaked to a friendly television reporter. In an interview with a not-so-friendly TV reporter, the mayor blew his stack on the same subject.
“Good on initiatives. A long way to go on democracy,” said Dick Simpson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former independent alderman. “He lets people send in suggestions, but it’s not like a deliberative process where consensus arise out of those discussions.”
Better Government Association President and CEO Andy Shaw said Emanuel has “picked the low-hanging fruit with the skill of a vintner.”
“His first few months remind me of [former Chicago Public Schools CEO] Paul Vallas in that he has identified all the really ripe targets for quick change and attacked them. His optics are excellent. He understands the stagecraft,” said Shaw, a former television reporter.
But Shaw said he was disappointed by Emanuel’s failure to deliver on a promise to give the city’s inspector general broader powers and more resources. Emanuel also has yet to purge the middle management of city government that Shaw called the “soft underbelly of patronage.”
The bottom line, Shaw said, is that Emanuel has “aced the first few quizzes, but he hasn’t gone into the tough part of the semester yet.”
Emanuel is well aware that the tough stuff is yet to come, including solving Chicago’s pension crisis and renegotiating police and fire contracts that expire June 30. But he argued that he has accomplished something in 100 days that will carry him through the next 100 and beyond.
“Through energy and delivering on the change we talked about, there’s a confidence in the city that our capacity is equal to the challenges,” he said.
“Pre the election, the transition and the first 100 days, I would get, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Now, the city has a sense that, ‘We can do this.’ That, to me has been the most gratifying — the sense that we, again, have a confidence in our step.”