by Mick Dumke
Give the man credit: Rahm Emanuel is certainly setting the bar high.
He and his team released a 72-page “transition plan” this morning listing dozens of goals for his administration, from boosting economic growth to increasing the number of people who regularly bicycle.
“It will be a scorecard for the public to keep my administration accountable,” the mayor-elect said at a press conference. “It will be a scorecard for myself and my administration to keep us accountable.”
It's quite ambitious. After the Emanuel administration has reduced crime, improved access for the disabled, addressed climate change, and transformed education, it may have to come up with another to-do list that includes finding a cure for AIDS, negotiating peace in the Middle East, getting the Cubs to the Series, and figuring out how to scrap the parking meter deal. But those things might not happen until the second 100 days.
For real, though, even if some of the transition plan was dusted off from the Rahm campaign playbook, the scope of things he wants to accomplish is impressive, and here’s hoping a fraction of them are checked off in the next four years.
On the other hand, the proverbial devil is always in the actual details, and in many cases this document lacks them. Here’s the mayor-elect’s pledge on fixing the budget, which of course dictates how much of the rest of this stuff can be accomplished:
“The City will issue an executive order to establish a formal, long-term financial planning process. The administration will also ask City Council to pass a resolution adopting a budget policy that guides the process for spending and budget decisions. Relying on involvement and input from the public and City Council, the new planning process will incorporate financial best practices.”
There is no indication of what the "planning process" will include or what constitutes "financial best practices"; according to Emanuel and his aides, that will come once he’s in office and has a close-up glimpse of the state of things.
On the other hand, it seems astute of the team to promise that aldermen will be responsible for passing a nonbinding resolution supporting what the mayor does, since they’ve shown the ability to do this in the past.
Based on my quick read, here are a couple of other things worth highlighting:
• Tax increment financing reform ranks high on the list of government initiatives. “The TIF system makes its investments without sufficient transparency or accountability about the return on this important investment…. The City will appoint a panel of experts and charge it with developing a policy for how the City invests these funds.” Clearly, who’s on this panel and how they do their work will be critical.
• “A searchable version of the City budget will be posted on-line.” This would be huge. Currently the city only posts cumbersome, nonsearchable PDFs of the budget.
• Emanuel plans to continue the Daley administration’s gun-control policies: “The administration will advocate for stronger state and federal policy reforms to control the flow of firearms into the city. Firearm laws will be strictly enforced in Chicago.” The city has the strictest gun-control laws in the country, though they have often been used for politics more than law enforcement.
• The administration wants to “revitalize” and “re-invent” community policing through “new structures” that “reinforce the participation of community members.” The new structures are not yet specified.
• The mayor-elect wants to end food deserts through a combination of recruiting retailers, working with community groups, and spurring urban agriculture, starting with a pilot initiative in five yet-to-be-named neighborhoods.
• Emanuel reiterated his vow to put more cops on the street. His team says this can be done through police department reorganization. There’s no mention of a hiring blitz, which the city can’t afford. Emanuel seems to have ditched his campaign proposal to try tapping into TIF funds to hire cops.
• The administration aims to expand recycling service citywide after determining the “most effective and affordable strategy” for doing so. The current administration has moved toward privatizing recycling collection for the homes served by city garbage crews (the processing is already in private-sector hands). Emanuel doesn’t go there yet. Nor does the document talk specifically about recycling at businesses or multi-unit buildings, which account for the vast majority of our garbage. But it does raise the possibility of composting or some other future program to collect food waste.
• Emanuel has all sorts of ideas for the schools, including developing a plan for merit pay for teachers (“High-performing teachers will be recognized for their achievements”), opening the door for more charters (“school management structure will change to give high-performing CPS schools more operational autonomy”), and coming up with new school report cards that include parent evaluations.
Emanuel emphasized again that he “will not accept the status quo.” But he insisted that he is not trashing the record of Mayor Daley.
“I have a tremendous amount to learn from his successes and how he achieved them, and I’m honored to be not only a political ally but a personal friend,” Emanuel said. “I ask a different question: ‘What is the road out of here?’, not ‘What is the road in here?’”
But other targets, such as the teachers union, do not appear to be off limits. A few minutes later he renewed his call for a longer school day, and encouraged reporters to find out how it had become so short in the first place.