On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sat down with graduate students at Stanford University’s business school to tell them what a wonderful job he’s doing in Chicago—as though his experiences would help them achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.
Meanwhile, back home, Chicago Public Schools principals were circulating a central-office directive, warning teachers to clear their classrooms of personal appliances, like coffee makers, so the dead-broke system could save a few dollars on its electric bills.
I tell you this to reveal the disconnect between the Chicago that is, after five years of Rahm’s reign, and the one that exists in his imagination.
In Rahm’s fantasy world, Chicago’s a cutting-edge, money-making, Silicon Valley-like high-tech operation that owes its success to a brilliant CEO.
In reality, CPS is hopelessly broke and Rahm has no clue how to fix the problem.
If you recall, in 2012, after he closed 50 schools, Rahm told protesters they’d thank him one day, when associated savings helped get CPS finances in order.
Obviously, that didn’t work. Though now that the central office has identified those coffeepots as the culprit for our economic woes maybe Rahm will reopen the 50 schools.
The talk at Stanford was the one in which Rahm lit into the left wing of the Democratic Party—telling them to “take a chill pill,” and basically blaming them for losing the election to Trump. Because they were too stupid to shut the fuck up and follow his command.
“Winning is everything,” he said. “You don’t win, you can’t make public policy. I say that because it is hard for people in our party to accept that principle. Sometimes you just got to win. OK? Our party likes to be right even if they lose.”
That part of the talk has gathered all the notoriety. But it’s only a small portion of an one-hour talk. And, yes, I listened to the whole damn thing, in the hopes that Rahm can help me achieve my dreams of becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg.
The talk consisted of Rahm sitting at the front of lecture hall, filled with supersmart high achievers who will probably go on to become fabulously wealthy business executives. At which point, Rahm will hit them up for campaign contributions.
As an unnamed moderator asked questions, Rahm leaned back in his chair and offered sagacious pearls of wisdom such as:
“You never want to give up your goals. But you’ve got to be flexible about your means to that end. . . . You have to be idealistic enough to know why you’re doing what you are doing. And then ruthless enough to get it done.”
It made me wonder: What was Rahm’s goal when he so ruthlessly closing those six mental health clinics in impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods? To give poor people fewer options for dealing with the stress of life, so that more people would go crazy? That seems to be the only ends those closings achieved.
Rahm didn’t mention the shuttered mental health clinics. However, he did offer a creative interpretation of the 2012 teachers’ strike. It was, he declared, all about his valiant effort to get Chicago’s kids a longer school day.
“I’ll take that week strike and the fact that our kids are totally leading the country in educational gains,” he said.
OK, let’s break that whopper down before we let the mayor stray too far into the realm of “alternative facts.”
Number one, Chicago’s students are not leading the country in educational gains. Their test scores are roughly in line with public school students in other large cities. Moreover, the test-score gap between students from Chicago’s wealthy families and low-income families is growing, as I’ve explained before. It’s a troubling trend, and Rahm apparently has no idea how to stop it.
Number two, the strike was not over a longer school day. The mayor had already achieved permission from the state to lengthen the school day when the teachers went on strike.
It was instead the end result of more than a year of belligerence from our “winning is everything” mayor. In 2011, he charged into office eager to prove to the older versions of the students in the Stanford classroom that he was the type of Democrat who wanted to kick some teachers’ union ass.
In the year leading up to the strike, Rahm cut teachers’ salaries, insulted their motives, lengthened their hours, cussed out union president Karen Lewis, expanded nonunion charters, and all but dared them to strike if they didn’t like it.
All the while, his allies in the business community—like a certain billionaire named Bruce Rauner—cheered him on, as we know now from reading the private e-mails the mayor was recently forced to release.
When the union finally called his bluff and went on strike, Rahm wound up giving CPS teachers almost everything they’d been asking for. So the whole freaking strike wasn’t about looking out for the kids of Chicago so much as trying to prove his manhood to the Rauners of the world.
By the way, Rauner is now the very same governor who’s forcing CPS toward bankruptcy by cutting off state funding. So much for following Rahm’s advice when it comes to dealing with Republicans.
When his talk had concluded, the mayor flew home to a Chicago that’s arguably more broke, violent, and divided than it was when he took office.
Let’s hope those Stanford students don’t take his lessons to heart. Otherwise, their future companies will go bust.