For me, the highlights of the recent budget hearings—including the raucous one at the South Shore Cultural Center—were watching Mayor Rahm and his aides struggle to blame Mayor Daley for everything that’s wrong without mentioning his name.
This is notoriously difficult to do, since all the officials on the stage for these hearings—including Mayor Emanuel—are former Daley aides, advisers, or appointees.
It’s like they want you to believe that they never really supported the things they now vehemently oppose. Even though they helped formulate those policies back in the day.
Let’s just run through the four people on the stage at last Wednesday’s hearing at South Shore:
There’s Mayor Emanuel, who broke into Chicago politics as a Daley fund-raiser back in the 80s.
Sitting next to him was Alexandra Holt, Emanuel’s budget director. Before Emanuel took office, Holt worked for Daley’s budget office. Before that she worked in Daley’s now defunct Department of Environment.
Sitting next to Holt was Carole Brown, Mayor Emanuel’s chief financial officer.
In 2002, Mayor Daley appointed Brown president of the CTA, where it was her great fortune to serve with Frank Kruesi, who, I think we’ll all agree, was the most thoroughly unlikable public servant in recent Chicago history.
Though on his nastier days, Mayor Rahm’s gives ol’ Kruesi a run for his money.
Also on the South Shore stage was Avis LaVelle, the hearing’s moderator.
She was Mayor Daley’s press secretary in his first two terms before she, like Emanuel, went to Washington to work in the Clinton administration.
When LaVelle returned to Chicago, Mayor Daley appointed her to the Board of Education. In 2011, Mayor Emanuel appointed her to the Park District board.
She’s also runs a public relations firm whose clients include Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the consortium of investors to whom Mayor Daley sold the parking meters.
Of course, the parking meter deal heads the list of horrendous Daley deeds that Emanuel swears up and down he’d like to undo—so don’t blame him. Even though he had the council reratify the agreement in 2013.
No budget hearing is complete without one or two speakers bashing the parking meter deal. When that happened at South Shore, LaVelle refrained from defending her client as Brown and Holt stepped forward to say—Don’t blame us, the previous mayor made that deal.
Without, of course, mentioning his name or that they’d worked for him.
Finally, let’s not forget Forrest Claypool, appointed by Emanuel to run Chicago Public Schools. Claypool wasn’t actually on the stage, though he watched the hearing from the back of the room.
In the 90s, Claypool did two stints as Mayor Daley’s chief of staff in between a stint as the mayor’s Park District superintendent.
If you get a chance, ask Claypool about the city’s tax increment financing program. He should know all about it, as he was in the mayor’s office when Daley perfected that scam.
Anyway, you’re not going to hear many of these people talk about their days with the boss as they blame him for the upcoming $500 million property tax hike.
As time moves on, I feel like I’m the only guy in town with a nice thing to say about Mayor Daley, even though I bashed the hell out of his administration when it was actually going on.
One thing’s for certain, Mayor Emanuel can’t run a budget hearing like Daley.
For instance, to make sure speakers don’t exceed a one-minute limit, Mayor Emanuel had a big clock put on the wall, counting down from 60 seconds.
If speakers didn’t stop talking after a minute, someone turned off the microphone. And they sheepishly walked away.
Mayor Daley was far more tolerant. He gave people two minutes to talk, and he didn’t bother with a clock on the wall.
Instead, he had his budget director track the time on a wristwatch. It may have been one of the more productive things any of these budget directors ever did.
After two minutes, the budget director would say: “Time’s up.”
More often than not Mayor Daley would overrule his aide and say: “Let ’em finish.”
No wonder we elected this guy six times.
Of course, Daley’s budget hearings often dragged on forever.
In contrast, after Mayor Emanuel’s final budget hearing this year—at Wright College—the moderator bragged they’d heard from 70 or so different speakers in less than two hours.
It reminded me of Woody Allen’s joke about taking a speed-reading class: “I read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”
Enjoy your mayor, Chicago.