What I told Rahm about how Springfield works
RICH MILLER firstname.lastname@example.org May 10, 2012 5:16PM
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: June 12, 2012 8:16AM
I had a chance to sit down for half an hour with Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he was in Springfield on Tuesday.
Most of the conversation was off the record. Going off the record was my choice because Emanuel was sticking so tightly to his script that I wasn’t getting anything new or interesting out of him.
“I’m spending my Springfield political capital on pensions.”
“I’m serious about cleaning up this pension problem.”
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
He didn’t actually say that last sentence, but that’s what it sounded like after a few minutes, so off the record we went.
The unscripted Emanuel was a lot more interesting, but off the record is off the record, so I can’t tell you what he said.
Suffice it to say that he’s pretty much on top of Statehouse events.
The mayor has some definite holes in his understanding of Springfield’s sausage-making process, but that’s to be expected from anybody who has never spent time down there. There’s a reason why people hire lobbyists. Navigating Springfield’s ever-complicated currents is treacherous work for all but the most experienced deckhands.
And while I can’t tell you what the mayor said, I can tell you what I told him.
Emanuel was in Springfield to ask the Legislature to include Chicago’s pension systems in its planned pension reform bill. The mayor had previously indicated to other reporters that he thought pension reform could be put off until the lame-duck session next January. Delaying a vote would give him and other mayors around the state more time to put pressure on the General Assembly.
The reality, though, is that at least one New York bond rating agency has warned Illinois that any delay in fixing pensions and Medicaid (which is bleeding red ink right now and facing a $2.7 billion deficit next fiscal year alone) would result in a dangerous double-downgrade of Illinois’ credit rating. The state has been threatened twice with double-downgrades in the past couple of years. The first time, in 2010, resulted in a drastically scaled back pension plan for new state employees. The second time, in late 2011, resulted in the 66 percent income tax increase. New York bond houses rule the state’s world, unfortunately, and they have to be heeded.
Since that conversation, I’ve been told that top legislative Democrats are hesitant to include a city pension fix in the mix because of worries that it could draw even more opposition to the bill. They think they have the votes for pension reform, but when the city unions crank up the heat, that might all fall apart.
I also talked to him about guns. Downstate is in the process of seceding from the Democratic Party. So every time the brash Chicago Democrat mayor starts screaming about guns, that secession movement grows even bigger.
This is a remap year. Downstate Democratic legislators have tons of new turf to represent. That means they have a lot of new voters who don’t know who they are and likely don’t care.
If Emanuel is perceived as hurting Downstate Democratic interests, he’ll be shunned at the Statehouse.
And, finally, I told him he should probably go a bit easier on Gov. Pat Quinn in private. Emanuel got all up in Quinn’s face last year during a meeting over a Chicago casino and angrily issued some not-so-veiled threats.
Quinn’s favorite line when he feels disrespected is, “I’m the governor!” — usually bellowed when he’s pounding on a table.
He’s like Eddie Murphy’s character on the old “Saturday Night Live.” “I’m Gumby, damn it!”
Is a wide grin off the record?