Mayor Rahm Emanuel will end the Chicago Way, maybe

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will end the Chicago Way, maybe
rahm blog.jpg

Does Emanuel represent a new beginning, or just more of the same?


Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s recipe for “change” is so unlike The Chicago Way it’s hard for this native to believe in it as much as I would like to. I hope he pulls it off.

What he’s promising is nothing less than toppling nearly a century-old political culture that has comprised everything from “good graft” to outright corruption. My own memory of Chicago mayors goes back as far as Martin H. Kennelly, an ineffective reformer who got dumped by the dark forces who installed Richard J. Daley as mayor. I recall nothing comparable to what Emanuel promises to bring.

Since Kennelly, Chicago has had mayors who had either given lip service to reform (that would include Harold Washington who basically installed his own beneficiaries without really changing the spoils system) or were short-timers whose footprints on the city’s political habits have been as permanent as those on the lakefront. That would include Eugene Sawyer, Jane Byrne and Michael A. Bilandic, whose terms were not devoid of accomplishments, but did little to attack the city’s legendary, reptilian and sometimes celebrated political culture.

For the last few weeks, Richard M. Daley‘s accomplishments have filled the newspapers and broadcasts, but nothing he has done compares with Emanuel’s promises of what’s to come from this day forward. Daley has been a builder of lots of stuff, not all of it great or even good, and managed, by distributing the largesse far and wide, to tear the city’s races and ethnic groups away from each other’s throats. Which was great and good. But when it came to leading the city out of the swamp of costly and damaging corruption, his leadership was nil. When his insiders were convicted of corruption, he morphed into Mayor Big Shrug, as if he knew nothing about it and his conscience was clear. In a farewell interview with WLS-Ch. 7, Daley even sounded forgiving.

There’s no shrugging or forgiving on Emanuel’s part. Delve into the pages and pages of campaign promises and his 71-page “Chicago 2011: Transition Plan” for a whiff of the fumigation to come. Ethics reform. Professional procurement. The introduction of meritocracy into a stale bureaucracy. Financial accountability. For example, his sights are aimed directly at a bloated Chicago Public Schools administration, lazy or incompetent principals and teachers, and the Chicago Teachers Union, all responsible for the city’s stubbornly bad schools. By Emanuel’s own accounts, he is taking on the very people who crafted, nurtured and defended The Chicago Way of life.

All these problems — from the schools and crime to corruption and neighborhood abandonment –were handed to Emanuel by the Daley administration, yet Emanuel gives the departing mayor laurels for a job well done. It would be as if Barack Obama had praised George W. Bush‘s many accomplishments while promising to fix them all.

Emanuel’s wide appeal to the voters can be found not in the details of his campaign literature and transition plans, but in the attitude they represent; their aura is decidedly one of change for the better. My own guess is that Emanuel’s cross-city appeal reflected a desire to replace a Mayor Shrug with a Mayor Tough Guy. Emanuel is the not-Daley. A knuckle-cracking butt-kicker. Rahm the Ram. A mayor who has picked a school and a police superintendent made in Emanuel’s own no-nonsense image.

Perhaps it shows that Chicagoans share something with the tea party folks: They’re fed up. For Chicago, this would be a sea change.

Yet, Chicago-style cynicism intrudes. My Chicago voice tells me, “Don’t be a chump.” The forces of resistance against Emanuel are too entrenched to be moved. Or, he doesn’t mean all that he says. Nothing will change. The guy is a creature of the machine and always will be.

I hope that’s wrong. Call me a patsy and a sucker, but I see something different about Emanuel as a would-be reformer, unlike previous do-gooders. Old lakefront independents and other “goo-goos” stood not a chance against the likes of Richard J. Daley, Edward Vrdolyak, Fred Roti and Tom Keane. But Emanuel is as tough as any of them.

It’s a good bet that Emanuel will get something done. It has yet to be seen whether it will lead to a well-managed, honest and effective government or just a new version Old Chicago.

Response from Tribune readers as of 10:33  a.m.

msgrowan at 10:11 AM May 17, 2011

A cautious, wait-and-see – deservedly so – endorsement of Mr. Emanuel.  Let’s hope that he’s for real, and we should give the man a chance accordingly.  Maybe the supposedly eternal “Chicago Way,” epitomized in the city’s long-standing political paradigm of cozy insider soft graft and corruption, has reached the end of the road, and Chicago will really deserve the title of “The City That Works.”  The consequences of failure will be that we become known as Detroit or Newark-on-the Lake.

forrestjim at 9:10 AM May 17, 2011

Dennis, First time in years I agree with you.

billinchi at 6:26 AM May 17, 2011

Why do people that live outside Chicago care so much about who the mayor is or how good he/she does? I don’t care about the mayor in whatever town you live in.

elginbrian at 7:51 AM May 17, 2011

You do realize that as Chicago goes, so goes the state of Illinois. Chicago all but drives the Illinois economy, controls the levers of Illinois government (hello, where do those at the top hail from?), and sets the tone for the direction of everything in this part of the state. Chicago, like New York, LA, and other large cities, is almost a state unto itself. No, we don’t care who the mayor of Northlake is, but he/she sure cares about the mayor of Chicago, because THAT mayor will control a huge part of this region’s economy.

billinchi at 8:19 AM May 17, 2011

But if you don’t live in Chicago you have no say in Chicago’s matters. Caring so much about something that you have no conrol of is kind of crazy.

ShaneEl at 9:15 AM May 17, 2011

When Crook county loses a few house seats in the Illinois government next year, we’ll see a shift of power away from Chicago.

Daley condemed and destroyed so much public housing and forced people out of the city, that the population is no longer high enough to warrent the number of seats they current have.

Until that happens, everyone is vested in who the mayor is, and what he does. Chicago is the reason the rest of the state doesn’t get a fair deal on big topics of interest, like conceal carry.

SnarkyAkimbo at 6:14 AM May 17, 2011

Well said Byrne.

edonley at 12:05 AM May 17, 2011

It is always reassuring to have a Democrat at the Helm. Competence is a hard thing to come by in the GOP these days as we all know.

ValricoJohn at 5:38 AM May 17, 2011

Edonley,  perhaps you didn’t realize it, but the last time a member of the “GOP”  was “at the Helm” in Chicago was in 1931. 

Yes, the present state of affairs that the City of Chicago finds itself in is clearly a carryover from the William Hale Thompson administration.

Jack-of-Hearts at 9:19 PM May 16, 2011

Rahm is a moving component of the corrupt political machine that GAVE him the mayor’s throne.

Why in the world do you media folks think Rahm will bite the hand that feeds him?

What will happen is Rahm will get tough with anybody in the media that dares to question him and his administration. Afterall, Rahm was behind Obama’s attempt to shut out and shut down a news network it disagreed with.

Yes, Obama and Rahm used the office of the presidency to try and silence a news network. That should scare the daylights out of anyone. Wouldn’t ya say, Byrne?

elginbrian at 7:53 AM May 17, 2011

edonley is a sheeple. He’s part of the problem. He’s why we have 3-county Quinn in office, and nice fat tax increase, and why Chicago no longer owns its parking meters. How much does the Democratic committeeman pay you for your comments, edonley?

billinchi at 6:58 AM May 17, 2011

I thought Fox News is the highest rated “news” network? How exactly is that silencing them?

Al in Chicago at 7:13 AM May 17, 2011


obama and rahm ATTEMPTED to shut out a news network…..they failed.

billinchi at 10:22 AM May 17, 2011

Big stretch from not doing interviews with a new network to attempting to silence them. When did George Bush and Dick Cheney ever appear on the Daily Show after having a long standing invite?

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: Chicago, corruption, poliics


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  • Emanuel may look tougher, but there basically wasn't a time when Daley wasn't tough enough to get want he wanted, except, fortunately, the Olympics.

    Emanuel might show "tough enough" with regard to school negotiations (we'll have to wait and see), but I will refer you, as business as usual, to the mealy mouthed answers Claypool gave to Hilkevitch's surprisingly tough questions in a Tribune column.

    Also, as far as cleaning up the political underbelly, maybe you could take a trip to Tribune Tower and ask Kass about Donald Tomczak, and others who put Rahm over the top over Nancy Kaczak. Of course, with Ari's money, he may no longer need the Water Dept. street troops, but I'm sure John has some leads.

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