Ear Hustle

The Real Rahm Emanuel Exposed: A Mayor Completely Out Of Touch


The effort to fire Mayor Rahm Emanuel, including recall legislation filed recently in Springfield, is a movement rooted in the tragic death of Laquan McDonald.

But the outrage over Laquan’s death and the decision to bury the video should not shock anyone who has been paying attention to this City Hall. The secrecy, the incessant spin machine, the focus on damage control, Emanuel’s weak grasp of this city’s DNA and his bouts of tone deafness — none of that is information that voters didn’t have prior to his re-election last year to a second term.

If anything defines Emanuel’s leadership so far, it is his impulse to be reactive and rely obsessively on controlling fallout instead of avoiding it in the first place. That includes fighting the release of a video that would have possibly damaged his re-election chances.

Laquan’s death was an illustrative flash point to be sure. To think Emanuel’s initial reaction when releasing the video was to minimize the shooting as the act of a rogue Chicago police officer — to fail to grasp the magnitude of that scene and to be whisked to his next event, a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony — illuminated and fused for many Chicagoans Emanuel’s autocratic shortcomings.

In the weeks that followed, the realization finally hit home. Emanuel defended his police chief, then fired him. He snarled at the prospect of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, then welcomed it. He recalibrated behind closed doors, then apologized publicly in a heartfelt speech to the City Council.

His administration’s handling of Laquan’s death might have been the most egregious, but the fumble was cumulative.

Emanuel’s aides routinely resist the release of public records, from red light camera data to city financial records to Emanuel’s own schedules and calendar. His press staff keeps tabs on the city’s reporters, often hovering over their shoulders at City Hall to eavesdrop on interviews. Emanuel himself bristles at being challenged or interrupted. He abruptly leaves press conferences when the questions get too tough.

Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel


He ignored criticism in his first term that he was neglecting struggling neighborhoods. He continued to devote resources and attention to tourist destinations — Navy Pier, a new basketball arena for DePaul University, riverwalk renovations — instead of focusing laser-like on crime-infested low-income neighborhoods.

In 2014, he proposed building a new selective enrollment high school named after President Barack Obama to be located on the North Side, months after he closed nearly 50 schools, mostly in black neighborhoods on the South and West sides. He suggested using controversial tax increment finance money to pay for it at a time of heightened skepticism over TIFs in general. He could not have appeared more out of touch.

And Emanuel consistently rejected the notion that his Police Department operated in a code of silence. In 2012, he defended a legal settlement between the city and a bartender who got beat up by an off-duty police officer, all caught on video. The city wanted to vacate one of the jury’s findings that a code of silence existed within the Police Department. The city’s lawyers fought to have that conclusion omitted.

Even in recent days he defended the city’s Law Department (until he didn’t), despite a federal judge citing examples of city attorneys withholding evidence in two police misconduct investigations.

Again, nothing new, but relevant to the underlying fervor to oust him in the wake of Laquan McDonald’s death. This is, and always has been, a City Hall of walls and control. And so when a video of a brutal police shooting emerged, it was not out of character for the city to close ranks. We still don’t know the story behind the missing Burger King surveillance video or why other officers on the scene haven’t been disciplined for filing false reports.

Emanuel has tried to unwind the damage. He has instituted reforms at the Police Department and its oversight panel, the Independent Police Review Authority, to make law enforcement more accountable.

But the justification to recall Emanuel — or more important, to provide voters with a lever to do so — existed even before a 17-year-old teenager collapsed on a city street, plastered with 16 bullets from a police officer’s gun.

Crime under Emanuel’s watch has not improved meaningfully. Distrust between certain communities and the Police Department has arguably worsened. The city lacks the resources to address it. The city’s finances are fragile due to a continued borrow-and-spend addiction. Two Chicago Public Schools CEOs who were appointed by Emanuel have left and one is headed, most likely, to prison. The school system is teetering on bankruptcy. Taxpayers face one of the city’s highest property tax hikes in history. The pension funds of city workers and teachers remain dangerously underfunded.

All of these issues were front and center during the most recent election, and voters picked Emanuel anyway. Recall might be justified, and voters deserve the mechanism. But if recall advocates are motivated only by the tragic death of Laquan, then they haven’t been paying attention. They had a chance in April. They blew it.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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