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The city of Chicago is saddled with $33 billion in debt and pension obligations, and the fiscal health of the public school system is even worse. But the mayor didn't bring up those unpleasant details during his inauguration speech at the Chicago Theatre. He vowed to "address our pressing pension and fiscal challenges" over the next four years—and then dropped the subject.
Instead, he called on everyone to work together to improve the prospects of Chicago's children. "Anything that stunts the hopes and opportunities of thousands of young Chicagoans undermines our entire city's future," he said.
Emanuel noted that too many kids are caught in a cycle of poverty and violence that will only end with investments that bring more opportunities.
But he also said the city can't afford to pay for all of them and neither can any other level of government. That's why every citizen needs to offer "a little show of love, a little attention and support."
Unlike Don Draper in the finale of Mad Men, Emanuel stopped short of offering to buy the world a Coke. But not by much. While making a serious point about kids, the mayor positioned himself as an optimistic defender of the common people.
Throughout the ceremony, a guy in the back kept drawing laughs by shouting out, "Nice!" Even Emanuel and his mentor Bill Clinton were cracking up onstage.
The guy didn't mean it as a description of Emanuel, but it was an apt one. The mayor came across as impassioned, sensitive, and nothing like the monarch whose first term inspired many Chicagoans to utter different four-letter words. Clearly, Emanuel wanted to reiterate his reelection promise—famously made in an ad featuring him in a casual V-neck sweater—to do more listening and to work for the entire city.
To anyone who's been following city and state politics, the speech also offered Emanuel a chance to set himself apart from Governor Bruce Rauner, who's spent his first four months in office campaigning to roll back union rights and slashing funds for services such as HIV/AIDS treatment, immigrant assistance, and after-school tutoring for poor children—like those lifted up by the mayor.
In fact, less than two weeks ago Rauner brought his economic "turnaround" campaign to the City Council, where he told the mayor and aldermen not to expect an infusion of cash from the state. "We don't have the money to simply bail out Chicago," he said. "For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs."
To Rauner, that means establishing "enterprise zones" where union organizing is curtailed and worker's compensation claims are limited. "We need to make big changes," the governor said.
The mayor made it clear that he's opposed to those things, which is welcome news in a Democratic city, and chastised Rauner for not being more thoughtful in looking to save money.
But just as he did during the campaign, the mayor to has avoided detailing what he plans to do about the city's fiscal problems. For now he just wants you to think about the children and trust him.