I got a call the other day from an earnest young reformer who wanted to know what grade I'd give Mayor Emanuel after roughly six weeks on the job.
I told the guy it was a little early to give out grades that might affect the mayor's permanent record—he's still boning up on his tax increment financing 101 class, among other tasks.
But it may not be a bad idea to give him a progress report, like the ones schools periodically send to parents to let them know how their children are faring. Not that I'm comparing Mayor Emanuel to a child.
Anyway, let's take it alphabetically.
Give him a T, for the game of Three-card monte he's been playing over the last six weeks. That's the one where he shuffles money here and there until—presto!—he says he's magically come up with $75 million in savings for the taxpayers.
Since he doesn't substantiate his proclamation—he says he's made unspecified cuts to things like senior management, contracts, and grants management—we'll just have to take his word for it. That's always a dangerous thing to do with any elected official.
Curiously, $75 million is the same amount Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard say they have cut from the CPS budget. So it's either a cost-cutting coincidence, or our mayor just likes the sound of $75 million.
Publicitywise, Emanuel's budgetary announcements amount to a great strategy, buying him time while he figures out what the hell he's going to do come fall when he has to produce a balanced budget while simultaneously hiring new police (more on that later) and keeping his promise not to raise taxes.
Hello, TIF surplus funds.
Of course, Emanuel could always take a page from his predecessor (what up, Mayor Daley!) and optimistically project that a miraculous economic recovery will bring in so much additional property- and sales-tax revenue next year that he'll be able to hire cops, build new libraries, pave the streets with cement, and still balance the budget, all without a tax rate hike. Which would mean he could hold off on the tough budget-cutting decisions for at least a few more months, during which his boosters call him a fearless fiduciary wizard.
Speaking of boosters, did you catch David Brooks's recent write-up of Rahm in the New York Times? Mayor Emanuel, Brooks writes, "exemplifies the Insurgent Approach" to leadership—that is, he speaks bluntly about "the tough steps" he'll take to reduce the budget, introduces "a flurry of initiatives in all directions" so that "at any give moment it seems to be six Mayor Emanuels," and relies on "dexterity and speed" to get his administration moving in "spectacular fashion."
All this—and he's training for a triathlon!
And you thought the local press was soft on the mayor.
W, for Why didn't I think of that? Which is what has to be going through Mayor Daley's head every time he watches Emanuel corral some sheepish-looking CEO for a dog-and-pony show in which they proudly announce that more jobs are coming to Chicago.
There have been at least five so far, though I may have lost count. They've involved United Airlines, G.E. Capital, Motorola Solutions, Allscripts, and Walgreens.
In each case, Emanuel hovered over the CEO. The CEO, sounding like he's reading from a script, probably because he is, said he's delighted to be working with Mayor Emanuel to stay or move into Chicago. As opposed to—oh, pick a city, any city—Omaha. And without any financial handouts, either—except for the $40 million or so in TIF money that Mayor Daley gave United Airlines over the last few years, which Mayor Emanuel managed not to mention.
All told, Emanuel claims responsibility for 3,600 new jobs in Chicago.
If this continues, look for the mayor to show up at the opening of the next new Dunkin' Donuts.
Meanwhile, in the real world, where most Chicagoans live, it's been pretty damn tough, as unemployment continues to rise. In May, the number of unemployed people in Chicago rose from 124,158 to 141,157, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. So if you subtract the 3,600 jobs Emanuel highlighted from the 16,999 jobs that left, we're down 13,399.
Hmm, this will need some spin. Quick—call David Brooks!
L, for Looking out for his people.
For instance, the aforementioned Mr. Brizard got an annual salary of $250,000 to come here from Rochester, New York. That's a bump from the $230,000 that his predecessor, Ron Huberman, got to come to CPS from the CTA. And that was a bump from the $212,000 Arne Duncan was making before he left CPS to run the U.S. Department of Education in early 2009. And that, in turn, was a bump from the $192,000 Duncan was making at the beginning of that school year.
In other words, the CEO's salary has gone up $58,000, or 30 percent, in the last three years.
And Mayor Emanuel says the schools are broke? Sounds like a growth industry to me.
Actually, taking care of pals can sometimes be tricky for Emanuel, as was the case with Forrest Claypool.
The two have been buddies since their days as aides for Paul Simon's 1984 Senate campaign. Emanuel wanted Claypool to run the CTA, even though Claypool had no experience in public transportation, other than, you know, occasionally riding a bus.
The only problem was that the CTA already had a guy running it—Richard Rodriguez, a Mayor Daley appointee who's affiliated with the United Neighborhood Organization, one of the most powerful Hispanic operations in the city. Emanuel didn't want to alienate UNO, whose head, Juan Rangel, cochaired his mayoral campaign. So the mayor shifted Rodriguez over to the city's Department of Environment, even though he had no previous environmental experience beyond throwing his bottles and cans in the recycling bin instead of the garbage.
The only problem with that was that there was a perfectly suitable commissioner over at the Department of Environment named Suzanne Malec-McKenna. So Mayor Emanuel dumped her in favor of recycling Rodriguez and Claypool.
Good thing Emanuel's not claiming to be the green mayor like you-know-who.
N for Now what do I do?
Mayor Emanuel says he moved 650 police from desk jobs and special units to regular beat assignments, making good on a campaign promise. But most of these officers were already on the street in the city's toughest areas. And the city is still roughly 1,000 shy of the 8,000 patrol officers it had ten years ago.
The mayor could argue—as a lot of eggheads often do—that we don't need any more police, as crime is going down.
But that's not what Emanuel campaigned on. And most people in Chicago want more police, not less, even in neighborhoods with relatively low crime rates. Just last week 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney called for a special detail to patrol Boys Town after a man was knifed in a fight.
If all else fails, Emanuel might want to take a page from Mayor Daley's book: remind people that at least we're not Detroit.
T for Tormenting teachers, which seems to be the mayor's primary strategy for assuring people he's improving public education.
In essence, he wants teachers to work longer hours for less money. And if they don't like it? Fuck 'em! He'll turn the schools over to low-paying charters, like the nine that UNO operates.
On June 23, Emanuel and Brizard held a press conference at an UNO charter school in which they proposed requiring that every teacher in every school make at least two home visits to every student each year.
Some high school teachers have up to 150 students. So we're talking roughly 300 home visits a year.
As long as they're making home visits, why don't they pick up the recyclables while they're there? At least that would help address the majority of the city that doesn't have any recycling.
My CPS sources believe Emanuel doesn't really intend to make teachers do home visits—he's just floating the idea to scare them so they succumb to his order to cut the 4 percent raise Mayor Daley and the old school board promised them. So maybe there's a method to the mayor's madness after all.