Is Mayor Rahm Emanuel fiddling while Chicago burns?

This is a public letter to Chicago's 2nd term Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Do you only do campaigns and not government?  That is what your good friend and mine, Democratic Party campaign comsultant Pete Giangreco, brags he does. But, unlike Pete, you were elected Chicago Mayor in 2011 to accomplish, via government, certain things. Don’t you think you should focus on those well set out priorities.

In your three decades, or so, in politics, you have:  

Raised a lot of money for

--Mayor Richard M. Daley in the late 80s;

--President Bill Clinton in the early 90s;

--yourself when you joined the private sector and helped put together the PECO-Comed merger, cerca 2000;

--yourself to become a congressman in 2002 [Watch candidate Emanuel here];

--the DCCC to turn the U. S. House Democratic in 2006

--yourself to become Chicago Mayor in 2011

--yourself to continue to be Chicago Mayor in 2015.

Two weeks ago you announced you are going to Paris this Friday for the “Climate change,” world-wide conference for cities. Notwithstanding the recent indictment of one your police officers for the murder of Laquan McDonald, a black 17 year old citizen of the city and the consequent protests and shutdown of a portion of commerce in your city, you apparently have not cancelled your trip to Paris.

To paraphrase Carly Fiorana’s comment on President Obama’s assertion that Climate Change is our near-term, greatest national security threat, are you delusional? Do you think Paris is the best use of your time now? Do you not realize your city might be on the verge of burning down?

Do you not remember the platform you ran on in 2011 and just a few months ago? This journalist  doesn’t recall seeing climate change listed as one of your top three issues- and you were right not to do so.

Let me refresh your recollection.  You said, when you ran for Mayor in 2011, and again, in 2015, when you ran for re-election, the three major Chicago public policy issues were:

(1) Improving public safety (the high rate of murder, shootings, rape and other violence in low income minority areas on the south and west sides of Chicago; and, no matter how you play with the data, there is no way Chicagoans on the south and west sides of Chicago are safer now than they were four years ago)

 (2) Improving education, (the fact that only about 25% of low income minorities read at grade level in CPS traditional neighborhood schools--and that statistic has barely changed, if at all, after 20 years of “reform,” in CPS, and not at all during the last five years; If CPS reading levels have improved, that is almost solely due to the proliferation of magnet/select enrollment schools or charter schools, but which account for less than 25% of CPS enrollment) and

(3) City finances [They are a mess. City government continues to be bloated and inefficient. Pensions are a mess and the courts are making reform difficult, but not impossible; However, your reforms will likely not survive court challenges and if they do, they won’t bring long term solutions]

--Now, for the actions you should be taking on the above issues.

First--addressing crime, violence and public safety in low income areas on the west and south sides.  Have the police, State’s Attorney and others responsible for improving this situation give you a status report on the situation, in writing, every two weeks. The information should consist of detailed reports, by neighborhood, on shootings, killings, rapes, armed robberies and other violent crimes and what is being done about them—by the police, courts and other government/community actors in these areas.  Make those reports public, prior to bi-weekly public meetings that last about two hours.  At the end of those meetings, hold a press conference that continues until you answer every question from the media.

 Second, education.  Have CPS CEO Claypool give you a status report on CPS education, every two weeks. They should describe progress that is being made on reading, writing and math skills, with  particular attention to the percentage of low income minorities who are performing at grade level.  Aggregate statistics on performance by traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools and select enrollment schools should also be provided, assessed and discussed by administrators and at monthly CPS board members.  Make those reports public, prior to bi-weekly public meetings that last about two hours.  At the end of those meetings, hold a press conference that continues until you answer every question from the media.

Third, city finances.  Retain junior professors from the Booth Business School and the University of Chicago Graduate School of economics department to advise you on how to recalibrate your taxes to substantially increase economic growth in the city—and for starters, cut spending so that you can cut your your recent real estate property taxes in half. Call the Chicago Tribune editorial board and have it send you the specifics on cutting spending so you can live within your means and have your staff follow up with spending cut programs that are instituted year round.  Changes pensions, going forward, to 401K style pensions. If you are not allowed by the courts to cut pension benefits, reduce the COLAs and increase the retirement age for current employees, then start restructuring to reduce the number of employees. Make all of those reports public, prior to bi-weekly public meetings that last about two hours.  At the end of those meetings, hold a press conference that continues until you answer every question from the media.

Please cancel the Task Force on Police Accountability that you announced yesterday. 

We don’t need blue ribbon commissions. We need action, by you and the other city employees who are being paid to construct and execute policy.

At your scheduled press conference today at 11:00 am, please start out by having your police superintendent explain how his system of procedure and policy, training, discipline and compliance fell apart so that a 15 year police veteran, Jason Van Dyke, when called to the scene on the Southwest side on October 20, 2014, proceeded to start shooting six seconds after he left his police car a 17 year old teen, Laquan McDonald, armed with a 3 inch knife, while the teen was attempting to run away from the police [See, here].

Moreover, 10 to 15 policemen, facing the same situation, had concluded force was unnecessary, and a taser, on the way, would do the trick.

Further, why did officer Van Dyke decide he should shoot the teen 16 times in 15 seconds, with 13 shots coming after he hit the pavement, and at that point it was inconceivable that he could be perceived as a threat to anyone.  Did any of the police officers present at the scene try to stop Van Dyke from proceeding with his senseless shooting—before, not after, he had killed the teen.

Have you asked your police chief if he has a system in place to detect officers like Van Dyke who may have severe psychological problems, e.g. post trauma stress disorder, that makes them unsuitable for active police duty.  After all, Van Dyke had been accused by residents of 15 complaints of abuse over 15 years, ranging from using racial epithets to manhandling suspects and, in one complaint, pointing his gun at an arrestee without justification.

Also, why did you want to prevent the public from seeing the video of this shooting.  Didn’t your law department advise you that there was a good chance you would  be ordered to produce the tape of the shooting, so you should produce it, ask the State’s attorney to proceed with a filing of a criminal complaint, and not give the appearance of trying to engage in a cover-up.

Oh yeah, one more thing, what would you say to cancelling your trip to Paris, scheduled for Friday? It would seem that your time is much better spent on the above city issues of crime, education and city finances than on climate change.

As you know all too well, mostly young, low income minority kids are dying in Chicago from violence and that same socio-economic strand of kids are, in large part, not learning how to read at grade level.  After you make major inroads to solving those problems, the taxpayers might approve of you going to Paris, on your own dime. The same should apply to other City employees. I mean, after all, fair is fair.

Respectfully yours,

Jeff Berkowitz

Host and Producer, Public Affairs   






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  • Good letter -- and the truth.

    The problem is, the same people who are out demonstrating, young and old, will vote for a Rahm clone each and every time. Then they wonder why nothing changes. Why they do it is a mystery to me. Honestly. The same with the Alderstamps. With rare exception they are in the king's court each and every time, and yet they are returned to office in a very high percentage.

    Chicago (and Illinois) is not ready for reform. That MIGHT come after a complete collapse of finances and services ---but even then I doubt it.

  • The real problem is that the political class and political consultants gave King Richard II Daley a pass for 22 years, and he left such a mess that he realized he couldn't handle it any longer, and stuck it to his successor. Selling the parking meters sure cured nothing.

    McCarthy didn't start the current culture in the PD, note what I said about Daley and Burge a couple of days ago.

    I'm also not going to rebut Cher D's specious argument again, but I don't know how bringing in the State's Attorney for some antiviolence status report is going to do any good, when she is incompetent to do the job and so are her two opponents. I don't see Sam Adam Jr. giving up his lucrative law practice to run for State's Attorney, or any other prominent lawyer.

    I'll agree with Chef D that the only answer is going to be a Detroit style Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but it appears that the state legislature has to authorize applying for that, and this do nothing legislature will do nothing.

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