The Era of Mayor Rahm Begins

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne says it best:  “Mayor Rahm. It will be a hoot. It could even be good for Chicago.  And in a way he has never had to do before, Rahm Emanuel will finally reveal who he really is.  If he’s slick, it’s because he’s un-slick.  All transactions with him are of the postmodern he-knows-that-you-know-and-you-know-that-he knows-you-know variety.  He’s always operational, always trying to move the political needle.  Even his well-known love for profanity has helped him build his brand.”

That said, the mayor-elect of Chicago is facing a mountain of problems, including high poverty levels in some neighborhoods; a budget crisis that could amount to a $1 billion hole; failing schools; a public transportation system in serious trouble; and a police force that is significantly understaffed.  Additionally, Chicago’s business community and job-creation capacity were showing signs of distress even before the recession began; the 2010 Census shows that Chicago is losing residents; the costly parking meter fiasco has sparked strong reactions; and soaring property taxes remain unresolved.  Lastly, long-term avoidance of resolving public-worker pension funds has put the city into a financial corner.  In his victory speech in Chicago’s Plumbers Hall, Emanuel was optimistic about his ability to resolve the city’s problems.  “I am determined, with your help, to meet our challenges head on and make our great city even greater,” he said.

Before Tuesday’s historic election to replace the retiring Mayor Richard M. Daley, Emanuel’s poll numbers showed him winning less than 50 percent, which would have necessitated a runoff election in early April.  Instead, Emanuel won 55.2 percent of the Tuesday vote. Runner-up Gery Chico received 24 percent; Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle won nine percent; and former Senator Carol Moseley Braun won just under nine percent of the vote.

Emanuel’s ability to win 55 percent of the vote is impressive in its diversity; he won 40 of the city’s 50 wards and 48 percent of the black vote.   “We have not won anything until a child can go to school and not think of their safety we have not won anything until a parent can think of their work, and not where they’re going to find work, we have not won anything,” Emanuel said in his victory speech.  “The plural pronoun of ‘we’ is how we’re going to meet the challenges.  I do not want to see another child’s name in memorial killed by violence.”

Of course, the media have started their prognostications for Mayor Rahm, even before he’s taken office.  In the Chicago Sun-Times, City Hall reporter Fran Spielman writes that the enormity of problems facing Chicago could mean that he will only serve a single term as mayor.  According to Spielman, “Rahm Emanuel’s Round One victory gives him a running start on confronting problems so severe, the painful solutions could seal his fate as a one-termer. Whether Emanuel can avoid a one-and-done scenario — assuming he even wants to serve more than four years — will largely depend on how he tackles the biggest financial crisis in Chicago history.  The city is literally on the brink of bankruptcy with a structural deficit approaching $1 billion when under-funded employee pensions are factored in.  Mayor Daley borrowed to the hilt, sold off revenue-generating assets and spent most of the money to hold the line on taxes in his last two budgets. The city even borrowed $254 million to cover back pay raises long anticipated for police officers and firefighters.  There are no more easy answers. Only painful ones that will fundamentally alter services the city provides and further burden taxpayers already at the breaking point.”

Rahm Emanuel will be inaugurated as Chicago’s mayor on May 16.  He has huge shoes to fill and a daunting task ahead.  It is our belief that he is an extraordinarily seasoned politician and a sophisticated operator and a worthy successor to Mayor Daley.  We wish him well.