Rahm Emanuel and Chicago are both a part of the national consciousness. I'm often asked, when out of town how I think Rahm Emanuel is doing as mayor. Now a suburbanite, I grew up in Chicago and still work here. What happens in Chicago is infinitely more interesting than all the things not happening in Suburbia. Heck, we don't even have a published murder rate out there.
As Chicago's 55th mayor, Rahm Emanuel is about half way through the third year of his term and I think the jury may still be out for many of us in the metropolitan area. A bit inscrutable, Emanuel, like his friend and ex-boss, Barack Obama plays his cards close to his vest.
Having grown up in the spotlight of Chicago politics, Mayor Daley (the 54th) was pretty open about his personal life. As mayor, though he always left you with the feeling that there was a lot more going on behind the curtain than you would ever find out.
Emanuel's a little different. While he seems to always keep a little something back, you get the impression that whatever is going on in the back room is in support of his public proclamations. There's something reassuring about Mayor Emanuel's style and his projection that he is always on the job.
Laughter seems to come naturally to Emanuel. His laugh is genuine and contagious and he seems to enjoy making others laugh. His connection with kids is also something that can't be faked. Clearly, he's a nice guy. The question everyone's been asking from Day 1, though is whether or not he can manage the business of Chicago.
After all, management is the main duty of a big-city mayor, which makes one wonder what small town mayors do, since so many of them have both mayors and city managers.
Yesterday, Emanuel presented the City Council with a $7 Billion budget for 2014 and issued dire warnings about the city's looming pension deficit. Now there's something you don't hear much about in Illinois.
From all appearances, Emanuel is doing everything one would consider reasonable to close budget gaps. Like any reasonable, bi-partisan budget committee should do, he's working to cut costs and raise revenue. Not all of his new revenue ideas have been well-received.
New taxes on cable TV and cigarettes have gotten mixed reviews. A new 75 cent per pack tax on cigarettes makes smoking in Chicago one of the most expensive sins in the country.
Commenting on the new speed cameras, one alderman said that revenue increases in Chicago shouldn't be on the backs of Chicagoans. He didn't specify upon whose backs those revenue increases should fall.
Emanuel's closing down of schools and subsequent battle with CPS Teachers Union President Karen Lewis made national headlines, but only time will reveal the success or failure of that strategy. He says the school-closing plan builds on his pledge to improve educational opportunities and help close a projected $1 billion schools budget gap.
The mayor touts his myriad initiatives to aid low-income people of color, including his push to raise $50 million for programs to curb youth violence.
Emanuel has pushed for tougher laws for motorists endangering bicycle riders. He's pushed many green initiatives and proven friendly to both business and gay equality.
To this point, Emanuel's tenure closely mirrors that of another big city mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The two have much in common, both in the experience they brought to the office and in their respective styles of governing.
While pushing for tougher gun laws, an always uphill battle against a well-funded NRA, one of Emanuel's main challenges remains gun violence on the streets of Chicago. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy shares the burden, but Emanuel will ultimately wear the blame. This is something that's not going away. Guns, poverty and drugs are the 3-legged stool of urban life.
With no serious political challengers on the horizon, Mayor Emanuel's tenure seems to face no immediate peril. He's shown himself to be earnest and hardworking and definitely worthy of a second term. If I had a Chicago address, I would probably be casting my vote for Rahm Emanuel in February of 2015.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.