With just more than two weeks to go until he is officially inaugurated as the successor to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has not wasted any time identifying some of the biggest concerns facing the city of Chicagomost notably, a budget shortfall approaching $1 billion next yearand staking out his plans to address them once he takes the reigns of City Hall May 16.
In a 70-minute on-stage interview with Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold at the Field Museum's James Simpson Theater April 20, Emanuel addressed many of those concerns with candor and charm as he spoke before a sold-out audience estimated at some 700. The programpart of the Chicago Tribune's Chicago Forward seriescame with a $10 price tag.
Pressed by Dold's opening question to outline what the incoming mayor hopes to accomplish within the first 100 days of his administration's tenure, Emanuel unleashed several buzzwords that would rear their heads throughout the interview: "challenges," "cuts," "reform" and, perhaps the political buzzword of the century to date, "change."
Within those 100 days, Emanuel said he hopes to pursue cuts to the tune of $75 million from the mayor's existing budget, instill ethics reform to "stop the revolving door" of public employees turning to careers as lobbyists, create new standards to evaluate economic development funds and streamline city government.
"We can't run from these problems any longer," Emanuel said. "It is important to me that we're serious about the level of reform ahead."
Looking further ahead, Emanuel touched on the need for pension reform and his vision for the future of Chicago Public Schools, which he hopes will include a longer school day and more comprehensive after-school programs to both improve learning outcomes and cut down on crimes committed by unsupervised students between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. Earlier this month, the state Senate unanimously approved a bill paving the way to a longer school day in Chicago. The bill now moves on to the state House.
"I am not going to cheat the children of Chicago any longer," the mayor-elect said. "[They] deserve a better future than we as adults have given them to date."
Responding to a question pertaining to his "brusk" personality, recently outlined in a New York Times piece about the change in mood in the "post-Rahm White House," Emanuel described himself as "impatient about the kind of change we need." He specifically mentioned the high murder rate in certain parts of the city, its low high school graduation rate, high incidence of youth violence and high unemployment rate as matters he is itching to address.
On these and other issues, the mayor-elect referred to "the status quo" with an ever-present caveat: It's not working. Whether it be public employees, business leaders or anyone else, Emanuel said he welcomed any and all ideas for solving the financial hardships facing the city going forwardas long as those ideas are not "in defense of the status quo."
"Come to the table with solutions," Emanuel said. "This is not about a political agenda, this is about a new philosophy. I am here to deliver service to the people who pay the bills. We're going to do it the best way we can."
As the questions turned from those provided by Dold to those submitted by audience members and Tribune readers through an online form, Emanuel addressed the accessibility of his administration and said he would pursue "tele-townhall" events to reach out to residents.
Regarding the city's struggling recycling program, the mayor-elect claimed any decisions around privatization would center around receiving the best service for residents for the best price. The mayor-elect did not discuss any LGBT-specific topics during the event.
Wrapping up his comments, Emanuel reiterated his desire to change the "culture and mindset" in city government to one that is more service-oriented at a time he described as "a critical juncture" for the city.
"The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine where we're going to be in the next 20 or 30 years. If we get them wrong, we can veer off to a Cleveland," he added.