The taxicab industry and its City Council allies have accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of creating an unlevel regulatory playing field tilted to benefit Uber, whose investors include the mayor’s brother.
The 2014 hiring of President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager-turned-White House adviser David Plouffe as Uber’s senior vice president of policy and strategy added fuel to that fire. Emanuel served as Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
Now, conspiracy theorists have another hiring to point to in Uber’s executive suite.
Lisa Schrader, who spent 14 years at City Hall and 25 months as Emanuel’s chief of staff, is going to work for the $50 billion company that has used technology to change the ride-hailing business.
Schrader, 44, will serve as director of public affairs for the central U.S. She’ll manage regulatory policy and communications in 50 cities and 15 states where Uber does business. That includes her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, which welcomed Uber two years ago.
The “revolving door” clause in the city’s ethics ordinance prohibits Schrader from lobbying her former underlings at City Hall for two years after her departure. That two-year ban will expire in November 2017.
“To serve in this role for a company that is truly changing the way people live, work and play across the globe was a compelling opportunity,” Schrader, who spent seven months at public relations giant Hill & Knowlton, said Thursday.
“I’m bringing to this role an understanding of communications, how to tell stories in a meaningful way in communities, how local and state governments work, what they care about and strong experience as a manager,” she said. “I’m going to be focused on making clear to every community we operate in the positive benefits that Uber provides to businesses, riders and drivers. We believe in the service and we need to tell everyone our great stories.”
The surprise hiring of Schrader comes less than two months after a divided City Council agreed to license, but not fingerprint, ride-hailing drivers.
Emanuel managed to salvage the hard-fought compromise — but only after threatening to adjourn the meeting to prevent one of the taxicab industry’s staunchest supporters from postponing the vote.
The mayor’s decision to use the strong-arm tactics he was known for in Washington, D.C., but had seldom used in Chicago, infuriated critics, who called the maneuver an “embarrassment” and “not the way to run” the City Council.
“Stop letting corporations write our laws. . . . It drives us closer to the Wal-Mart economy,” Ald. John Arena (45th) told Emanuel on that day.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) had pushed his more rigid licensing ordinance through the Transportation Committee he chairs days before the full Council vote.
Under pressure from the mayor, Beale subsequently agreed to a compromise that would license all Uber and Lyft drivers after a daylong course that could be completed online and background checks performed by the companies with information shared with the city.
That compromise also stipulated there will be no fingerprinting for at least six months.
The hiatus will be used to appoint a commission charged with conducting what Beale calls an “independent study” of the value and fairness of fingerprinting. If the recommendation is to proceed with fingerprinting, it will be done. If not, fingerprinting would be eliminated as a requirement for all city employees, the chairman has said.
Uber and Lyft have threatened to abandon the lucrative Chicago market if aldermen forge ahead with the fingerprinting plan.
The ride-hailing giants maintain that a background check based on FBI fingerprinting would discriminate against minorities who are “far more likely to have an interaction with the criminal justice system,” often for minor, nonviolent offenses for which the charges were dropped but the record has not yet been expunged.
On Thursday, Schrader refused to weigh in on the fingerprinting controversy. Nor would she speculate on what more could or should be done to save Chicago’s “dying” taxicab industry.
Asked whether she believes the field has been tilted to benefit Uber, she said: “After more than five years with the mayor, it’s very clear that he always does what he believes is right for the people of Chicago. That’s his North Star.”
A federal judge has ruled that cabdrivers have a legitimate beef that Chicago’s disparate rules governing ride-hailing services and taxis violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. But the judge has said it’s up to the City Council to sort it out, not the courts.
For years, Uber and Lyft were allowed to operate on Chicago streets without any regulation.
When the city finally stepped in, it was with a watered-down ordinance that allowed Uber and Lyft to continue to set their own fares and escape the more rigid city regulation reserved for cabs.
Last fall, Emanuel brokered a deal that gave cabdrivers a long-sought fare increase but gave away their last bastion of exclusivity — by granting Uber and Lyft the right to make lucrative pickups at O’Hare and Midway Airports.
Fourteen aldermen had joined forces with the Illinois Transportation Trade Association and a union representing cabdrivers in demanding that Emanuel shelve his plan to impose $48 million in fees and surcharges on taxicabs and ride-hailing services until the playing field was leveled.