Monday, May 2, 2011

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel Names Public Safety Team, Explains Meaning of "Diversity"

Posted By on 05.02.11 at 04:20 PM

Rahm Emanuel smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile. It was the sort of smile I’m guessing we’re going to see a lot from our new mayor—one that seemed to say, I know I’m supposed to appear pleased as punch because the cameras are rolling and I don’t want to look like I’m ready to rip off somebody’s freaking head and get everyone talking again about how I once sent some asshole a dead fish.

It came during the most striking part—the only striking part—of the mayor-elect’s Monday presser to announce his “public safety team,” including his previously leaked selection of Garry McCarthy as Chicago’s next police chief.

Veteran Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman had asked Emanuel a straightforward question: What was his response to black aldermen concerned that the new heads of the police, fire, and emergency management departments are all white?

“Okay," Emanuel said, "uh, first of all, I, the standards, as you know, Fran, are the diversity of experience and background is important to me. . . ."

Not so long ago local political rules dictated that the police superintendent needed to be black or Latino. Mayor Harold Washington started the trend and Mayor Daley continued it in his early years, when he was still consolidating power. By 2003, though, Daley decided he no longer needed to show deference to the neighborhoods with the biggest crime problems. His last two police chiefs were white. Phil Cline followed orders to kick ass and bring down the murder tally, but renegade officers antagonized black and Latino communities. Jody Weis had federal terrorism-fighting credentials designed to impress the International Olympic Committee, but Chicago didn't get the Olympics and lots of cops simply couldn't stand the guy.

Emanuel won all the black wards, and was competitive in many of the Latino ones, during his first-round election triumph in Feburary. In fact, since the beginning of his mayoral bid he has vowed to be the leader of “all Chicago.” This time, though, he didn't feel like talking about race.

""I want people of diverse experience, and I want people who can deliver results. . . . There is a structure in place at the police department, there is a structure in place at the fire department and also at OEMC, emergency management, that is reflective of the entire city and of the quality of the city. . . . The first test for me is a diversity of experience. . . . ”

He emphasized that McCarthy brings the diversity of having worked in Newark, while incoming OEMC director Gary Schenkel worked in Washington and served in the Marines.

Felicia Davis, Emanuel’s deputy chief of staff for public safety, was one of two people of color flanking the mayor-elect in their assigned spots, designated, as always, by strips of duct tape. The other was interim/outgoing police superintendent Terry Hillard.

But rather than point out that he does, in fact, have black friends and appointees, Emanuel simply noted that Davis’s varied background included stints in the police department and in the administration of Kendall College.

“I believe ultimately all Chicagoans will see this team as a team that is working on the first and foremost goal they have: to bring people a sense of safety and security, wherever they live,” he said. “That’s the standard the public is looking for and that’s the standard I am looking for.”

End of press conference.

In other words: Yes, the department heads are all white—and so what?

Emanuel image via Flickr/juggernautco

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