Soon after Mayor Rahm announced he wasn’t running for reelection, I got a text from my old friend Ken Davis, host of CAN TV’s Chicago Newsroom, asking how long it would be before I wrote a sentence that began: “Say what you will about Rahm, but . . . ”
In other words, how long would it take before Rahm’s successor—and right now the heavy favorite’s got to be Toni Preckwinkle—does something so foul, so stupid, so counterproductive that I find myself longing for the good old days of Rahm’s reign? As hard as that is to imagine.
It was that way with Mayor Daley, by the way. Man, I complained about Daley week after week, a decade from the end of one century to the end of a decade at the start of another. And then, three months into Rahm’s tenure, I found myself intoning, “Say what you will about Daley, but . . . ”
I first uttered those words at a budget hearing at Kennedy-King College in summer 2011, when Emanuel was roughly four months into his tenure as mayor. Listening to Rahm that day it became obvious to me that his first budget—with its cuts and closings—was all about sending a message to people outside the room at Kennedy-King.
People who didn’t depend on city services. People whose neighborhoods weren’t boiling over with crime. And the message was that Rahm was the kind of Democratic mayor who was unafraid to inflict damage on the city’s most vulnerable residents—as though that were the true sign of political greatness.
So I’m not sure what I’ll miss about Rahm’s eight years in office—in fact, I’m not sure what there is to miss at all. The closing of schools and mental health clinics? His relentless self-promotion—like congratulating himself for finally addressing our fiscal obligations after ignoring them for his first four years? The press releases taking credit for things that probably would have happened anyway, like United’s moving its headquarters into the Loop? The burying of the Laquan McDonald videotape? The funneling of $50 million in TIF dollars to Navy Pier? The murders? The corruption? Two of his handpicked school CEOs resigned in disgrace—one, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is serving time in the federal penitentiary.
At least Rahm didn’t destroy all the good things that other mayors created. Like, just to pick one—the Chicago Jazz Festival. Last Saturday’s concert, where Ramsey Lewis played the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly Wow,” may have been the highlight of Rahm’s reign. At least the second term. Thank goodness the mayor hasn’t sent out a press release taking credit for that.
A few unanswered questions remain as he prepares to leave City Hall—like, would Mayor Rahm have won reelection? The answer to that question says a lot about us, the voters, in Chicago. I mean, is there no accountability for a mayor, no matter what he or she does?
Rahm seems to think so. In interviews over the last few days, he’s bragged that he definitely would have won had he run. Well, on the one hand, yes, Rahm had the most money of any candidate in the race—about $7.5 million, with the ability to raise millions more from the fat cats who figured to make out big in his third term. And he also had the undying loyalty of north-side lakefront voters from Wards 42, 43, and 44, who act as though Willis Tower would jump into the lake should their beloved mayor not return to office and fork over even more money for real estate deals like Lincoln Yards.
He’d probably have had Barack Obama’s backing too. I’m not sure why the former president feels compelled to show so much love for his former chief of staff, considering Rahm all but got kicked out of the White House. But Obama’s commercials clearly played a big role in Rahm’s winning back the black vote against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in 2015. All in all, Rahm would have been the favorite had he stayed in the race.
On the other hand, there’s no guarantee he would have been allowed to run. Let’s not forget former governor Pat Quinn’s petition drive for a binding referendum that would impose mayoral term limits. Rahm had his lawyers fighting to keep the measure off November’s ballot, but Quinn won round one in that battle, when Board of Election staffers ruled he’d collected enough valid signatures to qualify.
In any case, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Rahm dropped out a few days after Quinn won that ruling—not that the mayor would ever claim Quinn, an old foe, had anything to do with his decision to throw in the towel. And I can’t I say I feel sorry for Rahm having to walk away from the limelight. Given his fierce tenacity and sense of entitlement, I have no doubt he’ll go on to bigger and probably wealthier things. Say what you will about Mayor Rahm, but he always takes care of number one.