Campaign contributors and others with clout are still pitching their ideas to Rahm Emanuel on the mayor’s private email — at the risk of attracting attention from Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics.
Private emails written to and from Emanuel during the months of January and February were released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Mayoral pal Peter Cunningham, JAM Productions honcho Jerry Mickelson, developer Robert Judelson and the mega-donor Abrams family, which owns Medline Industries, are just some of the people communicating their ideas to the mayor.
Judelson had received a letter from the mayor touting the progress being made on a variety of financial and economic development fronts.
But the developer was more concerned about removing what he called “a plethora” of “costly and time-consuming” city regulations standing in the way of his plan to build “low-rise, attractive apartments,” primarily in the West Loop.
“Unfortunately, these factors and a few others play havoc with the financial results and make it every more difficult to provide needed housing for the potential new folks moving to the city,” Judelson wrote in early February. “In a macro-view, your letter is most positive and compelling. On a micro-view, developers such as ourselves are struggling more than ever to bring projects to a successful completion.”
Emanuel asked Judelson whether he had been “in touch with Judy” Frydland, the city’s buildings commissioner.
Judelson replied that he had, but that Frydland “isn’t the one doing these regressive regulations.”
The developer wrote: “Judy has been as helpful as she can be, but the system is riddled with rules and apathy and it is costing the city a fortune.”
Mickelson wrote an email to mayoral pal Lynn Lockwood that was forwarded to Emanuel, pitching “Lips on Parade,” a sequel to the wildly popular, “Cows on Parade” exhibit that would dovetail with the 18,000-square-foot exhibit he was bringing to Navy Pier showcasing the 54-year career of the “Rolling Stones.”
“Do you remember Cows on Parade? I am of the belief that something similar can be done for the iconic Rolling Stones logo,” Mickelson wrote in a January email with attached photos of a similar “Lips on Parade” display outside the gallery in London where the Stones exhibit was running.
“It is my belief that millions of selfies would be taken this summer with these iconic sculptures if properly placed throughout the city. I think this will raise more than Cows on Parade. Who doesn’t want to own the iconic Stones logo? To be more politically-correct, it might have to be called, `Mouths on Parade.’”
Lockwood, who chaired a political fundraising committee for the mayor and is married to Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy, forwarded Mickelson’s emails to the mayor, calling it an “interesting idea.”
“The lips/mouths on parade could raise a great deal of money two ways — on sponsors for each lip [placed all over the city] and auction the lips off at the end of the run. The question is the charity: music, education, mentoring? Thoughts?”
Emanuel replied, “Both. Arts. Education.”
Jim Abrams from Medline Industries was pitching the mayor on an idea that originated with his son to bolster attendance at Chicago Public Schools: Free transportation to and from school on CTA buses for CPS students who are eligible for subsidized lunches.
“You never responded. But, did you read my son Jake’s proposal? Apparently, it was introduced as legislation today,” the elder Abrams wrote on Feb. 8.
Emanuel replied, “Yes. I’ve been traveling.”
Cunningham is a longtime Emanuel confidant who served as a top aide in the U.S. Department of Education when Duncan was U.S. Education secretary.
Twice, Cunningham pitched ideas with profit-making potential for friends and associates.
One idea was to turn the vacant former Main Post Office that hovers over the Eisenhower Expressway into a “vertical farm.” The other idea was to establish “Way Finder” signs outside busy CTA stations.
“20 years ago, I was doing some PR for a developer who had an option to develop the old post office. Obviously, it never happened. Afterwards, my friends and I fantasized about putting a vertical farm in it,” Cunningham wrote.
“Like lots of ideas, that didn’t happen either. Since then, the technology has come a long way. See this [attached] article in the New Yorker. Maybe it’s time. Talk to Roger Post at Christy Webber [Landscapers]. He’s my friend. You’ve met him a few times with me.”
On Feb. 22, Cunningham was emailing the mayor again, this time on the CTA “Way Finder” idea that New York, London and Moscow already have, but Chicago doesn’t, according to, “my guy,” as Cunningham put it.
“You should chat with this guy. He’s a Brit. Industrial designer. Did some work for the CTA. Really smart. Knows a lot about urban design. Your kind of guy. I could bring him in some day for a half-hour and we could show you some stuff,” Cunningham wrote.
“When you walk off the Blue Line, there should be a wayfinder right in front of you telling you where you are and how to find where you want to go. There’s a whole science to it — integrating transit, culture, etc. — targeted to pedestrians. I know nothing about it, but he just bent [my] ear off for an hour. I was pretty convinced we could and should do something about it.”
Emanuel seemed intrigued, replying, “Let’s set up. Invite CDOT and CTA to meeting.”
In February, the Board of Ethics slapped former Uber executive David Plouffe with a record $90,000 fine for emailing Mayor Rahm Emanuel on a private account the mayor used to conduct city business without registering as a lobbyist.
At least a dozen more clout-heavy lobbyists now face hefty fines in the continuing fallout from the massive information dump that was supposed to end Emanuel’s legal battle to keep nearly 3,000 of his private emails concealed from public view.
But that didn’t stop public relations maven Marilyn Katz from using the mayor’s private email accounts to advise and gently criticize Emanuel.
In a Feb. 22 email, Katz let the mayor know she was not happy with his decision to appease rebellious aldermen by stripping tree planting from his plan to spend $17 million in unclaimed property tax rebate money.
“Sorry you gave in on this one. Trees & jobs are a better bet,” she wrote.
In another email forwarded to Emanuel, Katz offered some advice to the mayor through his communications director, Adam Collins.
“If I were Rahm I would really think about enlisting non-profits and cdc’s in both the immigration effort and the young women’s effort,” Katz wrote.
“As I’ve said to him before, it’s really better to work WITH, rather then only FOR people.”
Charles Jenkins wrote a private email to the mayor in an attempt to save George Daniels and his “George’s Music Room” from being “pushed out of Midway Airport.”
University of Illinois Chancellor Robert J. Jones sent the mayor a “thank you” email that hinted strongly at a budding partnership between the university and the city.
“It was a great pleasure meeting you and learning more about your vision to advance the U of I presence in Chicago. I look forward to working with you and your team,” Jones wrote on Feb. 4.
The mayor replied, “Really enjoyed the visit. How we can work together going forward. Already on my team to get the project moving forward. Talk soon.”
Ford Motor Co. didn’t ask the mayor for help.
It was the other way around.
After reading about a new type of police vehicle to be manufactured at Ford’s Torrence Avenue plant on Chicago’s Far Southeast Side, Emanuel fired off an exuberant email to Mark Fields, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co.
“Great news! If I can help you, know I will order more,” Emanuel wrote in early January.
Fields replied: “Thanks, Rahm!”