Rahm Emanuel burns phone lines to Springfield, gets results
By Fran Spielman City Hall Reporter email@example.com May 31, 2011 1:40PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School after Comcast announcement, Monday, May 31, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.
Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel never made it to Springfield for the frenzied lobbying that marks the end of every legislative session. But his larger-than-life presence was felt.
Through the holiday weekend and all through the day on Tuesday, Emanuel burned the phone lines to Springfield to deliver the city-owned Chicago casino that eluded his predecessor for more than two decades.
Emanuel also scored a victory on his No. 1 legislative priority: an education reform bill that paves the way for a longer school day and school year and makes it easier to get rid of tenured teachers and more difficult for their union to go on strike.
And he chalked up another win with passage of the Illinois DREAM Act that will establish a state fund to route privately-funded college scholarships to as many as 95,000 children of undocumented immigrants.
Emanuel struck out in his efforts to win worker’s compensation reform. That measure was put of until the fall veto session.
But, all in all, it was an impressive Springfield debut for a rookie mayor — albeit one who honed his lobbying skills in Congress and as White House chief-of-staff.
“Whether it’s going to Springfield to make sure our kids have the length of day so they can learn and be safe or making sure the sons and daughters of immigrants also get an education — I will go to Springfield, I will go to Philadelphia, I will go to Connecticut to make sure Chicago is the most competitive economic city,” Emanuel told an unrelated news conference.
“I will make those phone calls and I will use all the persuasive powers I have to make sure that happens.”
In the Illinois House, personal phone calls from Emanuel helped flip five Chicago lawmakers believed to be leaning against the bill.
One of them, State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) told the new mayor she doesn’t like the sugary food and drinks served at Chicago Public Schools and wants to see recess reinstated. A commitment from the new mayor to look into both issues apparently secured Flowers’ vote.
On Tuesday, Emanuel noted once again that Chicago already has gambling, but it’s in Hammond, Indiana. That’s costing the city $20 million-a-month in sorely-needed revenue.
“We have a mass transit system that needs investment. We have schools that need to be wired and they need to be refurbished. . . .That’s essential resources — $20 million-a-month — to help us achieve the goals for the city to stay economically competitive,” the mayor said.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s on-again-off-again flirtation with a Chicago casino — and the difficult negotiations with the state that inevitably followed — have made the city’s quest for a casino a boy-who-cried-wolf story that comes up every year, only to go nowhere in Springfield.
But a newly-elected mayor was able to use his formidable lobbying skills to change the political equation without making a personal trip to the state capital.
“I never went down there, yet we passed a landmark education bill. We just passed the Illinois DREAM Act and I was making calls for the last two weeks on it. We just passed, in the House at least, the gaming bill and I’ve been making calls throughout the weekend and starting first thing [Tuesday] morning and even on the ride here and now on the ride back,” he said.
“If I need to go, I’ll go. But it’s not a matter of whether I go or not. It’s whether I’m making the right phone calls to the right senators or legislators to get the job done with the persuasiveness” that it takes.
Emanuel refused to say where he would locate a Chicago casino or whether he would divvy up the 4,000 new gaming positions between downtown and O’Hare and Midway Airports.
“I know one thing about passing legislation. And that is, you never count something before it’s done. . . .I’d be getting ahead of myself if I started asking those questions. There’ll be plenty of time to do that. But, that is after we passed it and it’s been signed into law,” he said.