Rahm Emanuel was sworn in Monday as Chicago’s first new mayor in more than two decades, a historic power shift for a city where the retiring Richard M. Daley was the only leader a whole generation had ever known.
The former White House chief of staff took the oath of office at downtown’s Millennium Park, one of the signature accomplishments in Daley’s efforts to transform Chicago from a gritty industrial hub into a sparkling world destination. Emanuel later headed to the fifth-floor office of City Hall that was Daley’s lair for 22 years — a longer tenure than anyone, including his legendary father, ever occupied it.
“We must face the truth,” Emanuel said in his inaugural speech. “It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create the jobs of the future.”
“The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next 20 or 30.”
Emanuel inherits a city with big financial problems. His transition team predicted a $700 million budget shortfall next year, but because of some controversial decisions by Daley — most notably the push to privatize parking meters — he has limited ways to pay for school improvements or repair the city’s aging infrastructure.
With Daley and his wife, Maggie, who is battling cancer, sitting nearby, Emanuel began his comments by praising his predecessor.
“A generation ago, people were writing Chicago off as a dying city,” the new mayor said. “They said our downtown was failing, our neighborhoods were unlivable, our schools were the worst in the nation, and our politics had become so divisive we were referred to as Beirut on the Lake.”
Daley, he said, “challenged all of us to lower our voices and raise our sights. Chicago is a different city today than the one Mayor Daley inherited, thanks to all he did.”
At the same time, Emanuel walked a fine line as he sought to assess the city’s problems without being directly critical of the departing mayor.
“From the moment I began my campaign for mayor, I have been clear about the hard truths and the tough choices we face. We simply can’t afford the size of city government that we had in the past, and taxpayers deserve a more effective and efficient government than the one we have today.”
Emanuel also showed that he would not be shy about wading into national politics, referring to efforts in other Midwestern states to eliminate union rights for many public employees as part of budget cuts.
“I reject how leaders in Wisconsin and Ohio are exploiting their fiscal crisis to achieve a political goal,” he said. “That course is not the right course for Chicago’s future.”
Emanuel spent much of his campaign battling the perception that he was an outsider from Washington. But after thanking his old boss, President Barack Obama, and inviting a guest list filled with administration figures, Emanuel made one thing clear: He has friends in high places.
Vice President Joe Biden attended, as did Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser who worked with Emanuel at the White House. A big chunk of Illinois’ congressional delegation was also present.
And as if to underline the city’s unique relationship with Washington, the audience also included Emanuel’s successor as White House chief of staff — William Daley, the outgoing mayor’s brother.
LaHood voiced what voters seemed to hope for when they elected Emanuel in February, saying his connections with Obama and others in Washington would pay off for the city.
“All of us have really committed to the idea that when there are people like Rahm, who want to solve problems and get things done in America, we’re going to be there to be helpful,” LaHood said.
Among the thousands who came to the park to watch the ceremony, many echoed Bob Ellis, a 56-year-old investment adviser, who said Emanuel is just the kind of tough leader the city needs.
“We are at a precipice, and we can go the way of Detroit or we can remain a great city,” he said. “And to remain a great city you need to make tough decisions, and he can do that.”
Axelrod also addressed an issue that was a nagging question during the campaign about whether Emanuel is more like Daley, who never wanted to be anything other than mayor of Chicago, or if he sees the mayor’s office as a stepping stone to higher office.
“My strong sense is that this is the last public job, at least elective office, that Rahm will hold,” Axelrod said.
When Monday’s ceremony was over, Emanuel went to his office. Daley had taken the desk used by both him and his father, Richard J. Daley. So Emanuel chose the desk of another of his predecessors: Anton Cermak, the mayor who was assassinated in 1933.
He signed a few executive orders and took a few questions from reporters.
The inauguration was the culmination of a campaign in which Emanuel kept his temper and famously profane vocabulary in check and amassed a $14 million campaign war chest. He simply steamrolled his opponents.
In February, he collected 55 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. As impressive as that victory was, it was substantially less than the 70-plus percent Daley typically received — a mandate he used to push much of what he wanted through the City Council.
Emanuel seemed to allude to his reputation when he spoke about school reform.
“As some have noted, including Amy (his wife), I am not a patient man,” he said. “When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor.”
Most Chicagoans didn’t know Emanuel wanted to be mayor until last spring, when he said so during a television interview, but Axelrod said he’s known it since Emanuel was in Congress, before he went to Washington to become Obama’s senior advisor.
“You know, I’ve never seen him happier,” Axelrod said. I’ve never seen him more engaged.”
Source: The Associated Press.