Sorry doesn’t cut it, Rahm—but your resignation might | Bleader

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sorry doesn’t cut it, Rahm—but your resignation might

Posted By on 12.10.15 at 11:45 AM

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click to enlarge Demonstrators Wednesday called for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation. - SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
  • Scott Olson/Getty Images
  • Demonstrators Wednesday called for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation.

Don't let "big talk" Rahm fool you. This is a mayor on the ropes yet again, but he's sure to return to his old ways.

Emanuel's police accountability speech wasn't the clear road map to reform that demonstrators have demanded. It wasn't even a fully voiced admission of how he's failed to address corruption in the Chicago Police Department. The moment marked an otherwise insolent, stubborn mayor fighting for his political life, saying anything he has to say to drown out the calls for his resignation.

It recalls a similar moment from just nine months ago: Chicagoans saw Emanuel's so-called softer side, but only after voters sent him to a runoff. As all signs pointed to a real risk of defeat, someone from the campaign likely gave the boss a nudge: "Start trying to show authenticity, or start packing your office."

And then "nice" Rahm showed up—one who already knew about Laquan McDonald's tragic murder at the hands of officer Jason Van Dyke. He said nothing. He did nothing. Accountability was far from the calculation. The only thing that mattered, for Emanuel, was winning.

In a March TV ad, he sat nestled beside a table, openly admitting to many of his glaring flaws, if only to show how mortified he'd be if voters kicked him out of City Hall. "I can rub people the wrong way—or talk when I should listen. I own that. But I'm also driven to make a difference," as Emanuel says in the ad, one that teems with insincerity and hubris. "Look, I'm not going to always get it right. But when it comes to fighting for Chicago and Chicago's future, no one's going to fight harder."

But what does it mean to "fight hard," when you get it devastatingly wrong or fail to deliver on grand promises—on schools, on taxes, on police? What does it mean to fight hard when you know of a grave miscarriage of justice, such as Van Dyke's behavior, but sit on the information for hundreds of days and attempt to wash your hands of it?

In truth, Emanuel hasn't shown Chicagoans what it means to fight hard. He's shown cowardice instead. He didn't speak to the chambers without being forced on the issue—it took the work of an independent journalist, legal filings and proceedings, and waves of organized protest to get any words out of Emanuel at long last. And now, yet again, he wants people to believe that he's working for their betterment.

It's just too little, too late.

His Wednesday speech said everything and nothing at the same time. It ticked every box with niceties and the language of "reform," which may sound alluring on the surface, but throws no hard punches. Emanuel didn't tell aldermen, nor did he tell the public, most of anything they didn't already know or plausibly imagined—about what he's done in recent weeks, about conditions of poverty and crime in black and brown neighborhoods, or about how many of those same citizens don't trust police officers to ethically use their power.

Chicago already knew about his task force. Chicago already knew that he's searching for a new police superintendent. Chicago already knew of a new federal probe, one that Emanuel himself vehemently opposed until remarks from the Democratic presidential contenders led him to backtrack. Chicagoans already knew of the unique challenges faced within their communities, especially those that have been historically disenfranchised by white and affluent civic leaders and elected officials.

Chicagoans already knew of the need for change. Many Chicagoans knew it while voting for Emanuel's first term in 2011, and we still know it nearly five years later—while we continue waiting for real change. And that proactive, decisive push for change hasn't come from the desk of Rahm Emanuel. It's come from the undying will of the people, the teachers who took to the streets in a 2012 strike, the aldermen who have railed against his laissez-faire approach with Garry McCarthy and the Chicago Police Department, the organizers and community organizations who continue pushing against the machine.

The issues of justice, culture, and community—the three points of emphasis outlined in Emanuel's speech—are all bound up in his lack of accountability. Emanuel dared to insist that community leaders failed their city, and that the responsibility is to be shared, even when it was his office that turned the other way when they got wind of McDonald's death.

It's not enough for Emanuel to insist that change "starts with us," when he's refused to face the man in the mirror for years. Nine months after winning reelection, and he sounds every bit the campaign politician but a hollow shell of a public servant. It shouldn't take this much for a mayor to finally say "I'm sorry" and pledge to do better—a mea culpa he gave Chicagoans just before a fateful runoff.

He's at least right about one thing: "nothing less but complete and total reform of the system and the culture that it breeds will meet the standard we have set for ourselves as a city."

And that starts with Rahm Emanuel humbly handing the reins over to someone else.

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