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Violence has a history of re-shaping mayoral travel plans

Mayor Rahm Emanuel addresses attendees  prayer vigil for 13 victims from Back Yards shooting Cornell Park New Beginnings Church

Mayor Rahm Emanuel addresses attendees at a prayer vigil for the 13 victims from the Back of the Yards shooting at Cornell Park at New Beginnings Church on Friday September 20, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak / Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: October 22, 2013 6:08AM

It’s not surprising that Chicago’s bloodiest night in months would prompt Mayor Rahm Emanuel to high-tail it back to Chicago after canceling meetings with two Cabinet secretaries in Washington and a rally for a U.S. Senate candidate in New Jersey.

Chicago crime waves have altered mayoral travel plans before. The only difference is that, unlike his predecessor, Emanuel didn’t wait to be criticized.

In October 1992, 7-year-old Dantrell Davis was gunned down by a sniper while walking hand-in-hand with his mother on his way to school near Cabrini Green. His death became a symbol of shame for a city in danger of losing its soul.

Without responding to the community outcry, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley left town for a parents’ weekend at his daughter’s Connecticut college and spent one of those days playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Hyannisport, Mass.

Daley cut the weekend short, only after taking a media beating for failing to respond to the tragedy and for missing Dantrell’s funeral.

“I’ve been a public official as mayor, as state’s attorney. But, I also have a responsibility as a parent and I’m not going to give that responsibility to somebody else. That was my daughter’s weekend at school,” Daley said after returning to Chicago.

Reminded that he also played golf, Daley snapped, “Yes. I went to the Robert Kennedy Memorial. My daughter was there. My wife was there. My 8-year-old was there. We had dinners. I’ll give you the whole menu.”

To recoup, Daley held a rare Sunday summit meeting at his City Hall office. He rejected a request by then-CHA Chairman Vince Lane to call out the National Guard, but produced a plan to sweep and secure Cabrini high-rises — by hiring 270 off-duty police officers for one week at a cost of $500,000.

“We will not surrender. We refuse to stand by in a city when a 7-year-old can’t walk from his home to his school without fear of death,” Daley said then.

On the day after Dantrell’s murder, Daley had blamed the federal government for the drug scourge, declared CHA high-rises a failure and plugged then-Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton’s plan to put another 100,000 police officers on the streets of the nation’s cities.

Only after returning to Chicago did Daley accept personal responsibility for the crisis.

“There are no simple solutions. But it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to provide for the security of the people of Chicago. I accepted that responsibility when I was sworn into office,” he said.

For Emanuel, the outbreak of violence disrupts his argument about Chicago turning the corner on shootings and homicides, thanks to a saturation strategy in crime “hot spots” that relies heavily on police overtime and rookie officers on foot patrol.

It doesn’t look like progress when a 3-year-old boy is one of 13 people injured by a gunman who opens fire on a South Side park on a night when two other people were killed and nine others injured.

Just this week, the FBI confirmed that last year’s 500 homicides made Chicago the “murder capital” of the nation ahead of New York City, with triple the population.

Now, a national news media that spent a good part of last year and early this year fixated on Chicago crime has some new footage to go with it.

No matter where Emanuel is — whether in Chicago, Washington or New Jersey — he’ll have to deal with that. And phone calls to console grieving and anguished mothers of shooting victims will not be consolation enough.


Twitter: @fspielman

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