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May 15, 2011 / J. Shaw

Rahm Emanuel-Chicago's Mr. Mayor

Desk or no desk, however, Rahm Emanuel was already sounding like the mayor. He announced that outsiders would lead the Police Department and the school system. He pressed for state legislation that would let him increase the length of Chicago’s school day. He warned of painful budget cuts immediately ahead, $75 million in his first 100 days.

“We can’t continue with the government we have,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview in a hotel lobby down the street from City Hall. “It has not been fundamentally reformed.”

After 22 years under the reign of a single, singular mayor and much of the last half-century with someone named Daley at the helm, even the slightest adjustment would feel enormous to Chicago. But Mr. Emanuel, who will officially take over on Monday after a ceremony in Millennium Park, the city’s front yard, is promising seismic shifts.

A 71-page, slickly bound transition plan Mr. Emanuel issued last week used the word “change” 19 times. Many here — including members of a City Council accustomed to Mr. Daley, whom they rarely bucked, and city workers, who fear that Mr. Emanuel will clean house, cut benefits and privatize city services — are bracing for something Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, has rarely known: the unknown.

“You don’t have a crystal ball,” said Jorge Ramirez, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which chose to endorse no mayoral candidate in the February election that Mr. Emanuel won with 55 percent of the vote.

But if Mr. Emanuel, who is 51 and will become this city’s first Jewish mayor, seems intent on changing Chicago, this city, too, seems certain to change Mr. Emanuel.

Known for his frenetic, blunt, relentless style, Mr. Emanuel, who has been a top adviser to two presidents and a member of Congress, will for the first time work as an elected chief executive. And while machine politics may have faded in Chicago, old alliances and neighborhood tribalism are hardly forgotten, and voters expect their mayor to spend time plenty of time with them. All of this as the city, shrinking in population, is facing a budget crisis of crippling proportion.

“It is an enormous challenge,” said Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who once served as one of the city’s 50 aldermen. “He’s going to have to find a way to build consensus, collaborations and cooperation to an extent he hasn’t ever had to do at the White House.”

Mr. Emanuel has been walking a careful line: saying sweeping changes are needed but, at the same time, never quite pointing out a failing or misstep by Mr. Daley.

The two men are Democrats, political allies and personal friends. Long ago, Mr. Emanuel raised money for one of Mr. Daley’s campaigns. Though Mr. Daley never publicly chose sides in the mayoral race last winter, he is widely believed to have given a tacit nod to Mr. Emanuel. And Mr. Emanuel said he had been consulting with Mr. Daley lately. “I would be crazy not to call on him,” Mr. Emanuel said.

Besides, criticizing the mayor might not be politically wise. Although voters here like to moan about his dictatorial style and imperfect syntax, Mr. Daley has won six elections, and seemed likely to win another had he not decided to retire. For weeks, Mr. Daley has been conducting a farewell tour of neighborhoods, and banners in the city read, “Chicago; A World-Class City; Thank You Mayor Daley.”

Mr. Emanuel, too, is effusive about his city. But he also has plans — lots of them. He wants Chicago parents to start signing “parent-teacher agreements” at the start of each school year, laying out expectations for learning that will happen at home. He wants to ban mayoral appointees from instantly turning around and lobbying City Hall colleagues when they leave office. He wants to streamline licensing for businesses. He wants to shrink City Council committees. He wants to freeze spending and tackle unfunded pension liabilities, a politically fraught realm.

So many ideas may quickly land Mr. Emanuel in his first clashes with Chicago’s vast City Council, with all its disparate alliances and with one of its most powerful and veteran members, Edward M. Burke, having worked against Mr. Emanuel’s candidacy.



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