On the street: What Chicagoans think of Rahm Emanuel’s ‘confrontational approach’?

Time magazine’s current issue features a cover story on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The headline superimposed on a black-and-white photo of the mayor reads: “Chicago Bull: “Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fighting both crime and failing schools. So why are people mad at him?”

The story runs through some of the reasons that Chicago might be mad at its mayor --his focus on luring in new businesses while unemployment remains stubbornly high, ongoing violence plaguing pockets of the South and West Sides and the 49 school closures that will take place in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods.

By the second paragraph, the Time piece has already taken a position on one of the most controversial of the concerns these days: the school closings.

Facing a billion-dollar deficit in the schools budget, Emanuel had good reason to tackle the problem of half-full buildings and underperforming kids. But this giant step—no American city has closed as many schools at one time—was guaranteed to provoke.

Did it provoke? Are Chicagoans angry at Emanuel, or do they think his “confrontational approach” is actually “the city’s best chance to retain its perch as the country’s third largest city, a Midwestern metropolis with global ambition—and to avoid a grim Rust Belt future”?

We asked a cross-section of Chicagoans that question. Their answers ranged from being angry with Emanuel to recognizing his being only a small part of Chicago’s problems to full support of his policies. Here are their responses:

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Photo by Juan Labreche.

“I’m kind of bugged [at Rahm Emanuel],” said Eddie Clark, a statistician at the Illinois Department of Employment Security. “I don’t think that wholesale closings is going to fix the problem. If you have so many schools and you need to consolidate them, why are you building a new [charter] school in the area?”

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Photo by Juan Labreche.

Nikole Portillo grew up in the Back of the Yards, a neighborhood on the Southwest Side of the city. She now studies at Southern Illinois University, but while in high school woke up at 5:30 each morning to take a bus to a school on the North Side.

“I think the ones that are really upset are the minorities, like myself. The community I live in goes [to pieces] because nobody gives money to our community, nobody gives money to our school,” Portillo said. “That’s why people are mad. [Emanuel] says he is trying to help schools and communities and all that stuff, but honestly I think he is just trying to help white people more.”

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Photo by Juan Labreche.

“Some people are and some people are not mad at him,” said Gail Hatchett, a staff assistant for the city’s Department of Water Management. “People have their own agenda they want him to approve. I agree with both his approach to crime and guns, though I can see how it’s a little harsh for people who don’t understand what he is doing with his larger plan.”

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Stephanie Glass, who works at a bookstore in Logan Square, said that the real problem with Chicago is complacency with its political culture. “I haven’t been very impressed with what [Emanuel] is doing, but I don’t think it’s one thing where you can just point at him,” she said. “It speaks larger to the Chicago political system as a whole. Things I’ve noticed [are] people kind of seem to be like ‘what’s the point, it’s always like this.’ It’s absurd how segregated this city is and the violence, how it’s easily ignored.”

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“Why [does Emanuel] say there is no money, but he builds stupid things like bike lanes in the street?” asked Austin resident Ivan Moore, a truck driver. “As far as the school closings, some schools need to be closed, but he should think about how he wants to move these kinds from one neighborhood to the next. Didn’t nobody like Daley, but I guess he knew how to run the city.”

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  • It's not his style that bothers me. It's his substance.

  • In reply to Cheryl:

    ...or lack thereof.

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