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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The mayor's first year: moving forward, over and over again

Posted By on 05.16.12 at 07:17 AM

Rahm Emanuel does not want to be confused with that guy who used to be mayor
  • Ray Noland
  • Rahm Emanuel does not want to be confused with that guy who used to be mayor

Today marks Rahm Emanuel’s one-year anniversary as mayor of Chicago, as the local media have reminded us repeatedly in recent days, in between updates on which city streets will actually be open during the NATO summit.

The verdicts on our new mayor have all been similar: he’s “impatient,” “frenzied,” “rash,” and thrilled to be rebuilding a city "that had lost its direction and confidence" under Richard M. Daley.

In fact, one could say that Emanuel is an illustration of the Newtonian law that a body in motion will maintain its velocity unless acted upon by an outside force, which never happens in Chicago, since there aren’t any outside forces with the guts or millions in cash to alter the mayor's course.

As a result, he’s constantly moving—calling and texting friends, connections, power players, suck-ups and potential suck-ups, meeting with donors, showing up for Bulls games, and holding lots of press conferences to unveil his latest initiatives.

Lots. Emanuel has made announcements about new jobs, infrastructure projects, increased transparency, collections of unpaid city bills, more cops on the beat, rehabs of foreclosed homes, a new, largely privatized recycling program, an upgrade of Navy Pier . . .

He even found the time to issue a statement praising Phil Humber of the White Sox for pitching a perfect game last month.

But something has changed since Emanuel was inaugurated last May. He’s no longer talking about all the things he’s going to change.

“The city of Chicago is ready for change,” he said a year ago.

Now that he’s the guy in charge, Mayor Emanuel is more interested in building on what he’s done. “In one year we have made significant progress toward securing Chicago’s future,” he said over the weekend.

In fact, you could almost say that he wants to keep Chicago moving forward, except that Rich Daley wanted to keep Chicago moving forward, and Mayor Emanuel doesn’t want to go back to those days, except to remind us of how far we’ve advanced past them.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget.

“His proposed initiatives embrace just about every good-government idea floated in recent decades, many of them stacked up waiting to be implemented,” the Tribune editorialized in 1990, after Rich Daley’s first year in office. “They include crackdowns on deadbeats who owe the city money, developing Navy Pier, putting more uniformed police on the street, farming out some city services to private business, enforcing citywide garbage recycling, building a greater Loop trolley system, putting vacant city property to use, creating riverfront parks and paths, updating the city building code, and on and on.”

Or, as Crain’s reported a couple of months earlier:

“At the Daley administration's first cabinet meeting, a commissioner told the mayor about excessive overtime costs in one city department. Richard M. Daley pounced on the information. ‘I want to let the people know what has been done wrong inside city government,’ he interjected.

“The son of Chicago's legendary ‘Boss’ is running against government from the inside. Through well-staged events played in front of an unusually pliant media, Mr. Daley spent his first 100 days in office peppering Chicago with relentless anecdotes of symbolic change.

“The intended message is that the new mayor is a hands-on problem solver who has reorganized city government to reflect the new priority of efficiency over equality.”

Of course, just as Mayor Emanuel got his start in politics working for his predecessor, Rich Daley had a pretty astute role model too.

“The first year was splashy, as he intended it to be,” Mike Royko wrote of the first Mayor Daley in Boss. “He concentrated first on goals that would bring quick, visible results: hiring more policemen and firemen, putting double construction shifts on the east-west expressway, street lighting, paving. Hardly a day passed without the announcement of a new project being started or planned.”

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