As other members of his party were reeling from Donald Trump’s Election Day victory, Mayor Rahm Emanuel got moving.
In a return to his long-cultivated role as a national political operator, Emanuel filled his schedule with trips around the country and overseas, attending conferences, making deals, raising campaign money and dispensing advice.
Emanuel took 10 out-of-town trips in as many weeks following Trump’s election, according to a Chicago Sun-Times review of his daily schedules.
The mayor held meetings and hit parties with Obama administration officials in Washington, D.C. He met with Trump in New York, attended an international climate conference in Mexico City, spoke at a gathering of Democratic Party activists in Miami, and traveled to a fund-raiser at the Austin, Texas, home of one of the promoters of the Lollapalooza music festival.
The flurry of travel — paid for through a “mixture” of taxpayers’ money, campaign cash and private funding, according to City Hall — coincided with a stepped-up campaign fund-raising effort. His political committees took in $1.4 million during the second half of 2016 — nearly three times the $500,000 raised in the same period a year earlier, campaign-finance records show.
Even as he appeared more often on the national stage, the mayor scheduled fewer public appearances in Chicago’s African-American communities, his schedules show — another stark contrast to the year before.
In November 2015, the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald police shooting video triggered outrage and calls for Emanuel to resign. He was seen as politically untouchable even by longtime allies like Hillary Clinton.
So he went on an outreach tour of black neighborhoods, responding to the fallout of the McDonald video’s release with promises of reforms. Aside from a family vacation — which he cut short after another police-involved shooting — Emanuel didn’t travel for months, records show.
In December 2015, Emanuel stopped at five black churches and scheduled time for eight community events, including trips to restaurants with South Side and West Side aldermen.
Compare that to December 2016, when he had one black church on his calendar — a Dec. 2 visit to a breakfast at the House of Hope, the large South Side church led by the Rev. James Meeks, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. Emanuel didn’t schedule any community meals or meetings that month.
Asked about Emanuel’s recent travel, City Hall spokesman Adam Collins says: “The mayor keeps a packed schedule, as you’ve seen, and works relentlessly on the key issues facing our city. While some of that work takes him to D.C. or New York, the overwhelming majority of his time and energy is spent the way it was this week — meeting with community leaders in Pilsen, going to Englewood to focus on economic development, bringing jobs to the West Side and working to improve public safety throughout the city.”
City taxpayers covered $3,733 for the mayor’s airfare and hotels during the 10 trips, according to records provided by the mayor’s office. But the records didn’t show other expenses, including the total travel costs for aides who accompanied the mayor.
Two days after the election, Emanuel flew to Washington, where he met with interior, defense and health and human services officials before attending an unspecified “non-city” event that evening.
The trip was paid for with a “mixture” of funds from city taxpayers and Emanuel’s campaign committees, according to Collins.
On Nov. 17, Emanuel led a contingent of 80 aides, civic leaders and political supporters to Rome for the elevation of Archbishop Blase Cupich to cardinal. The trip was paid for by World Business Chicago, a private, not-for-profit economic development agency that’s partly funded by Chicago taxpayers and led by Emanuel and Michael Sacks, one of the mayor’s closest advisers and biggest campaign contributors. The mayor returned on Nov. 21.
Back in Chicago, Emanuel went to a “non-city” event on Nov. 28 at the headquarters of GCM Grosvenor, an investment firm headed by Sacks.
Two days later, Emanuel headed to Mexico City for a climate summit that included mayors from around the world. World Business Chicago again covered the bill.
The mayor flew to New York City the afternoon of Dec. 6 and the next morning went to Trump Tower for a meeting with the president-elect. Trump unleashed a string of tweets that day, though none mentioned the mayor.
But Emanuel announced he’d delivered a letter signed by a group of mayors urging Trump not to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, launched by President Barack Obama to prevent the deportations of undocumented immigrants who came into the country as kids. Trump later appeared to back down from his promise to nix the program.
While in New York, the mayor also met with representatives of the credit-rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service, as well as with Stephen Ross and Jeff Blau, top executives of Related Companies. The firm has built residential towers in downtown Chicago and is slated to redevelop the Lathrop Homes public housing complex on the North Side. Ross and Blau have given $30,000 apiece to Emanuel’s campaign fund since 2013.
The mayor’s New York trip was paid for with a “mixture” of taxpayer and campaign funds, according to Collins. Emanuel’s schedule shows he was accompanied by Carole Brown, the city’s chief financial officer, David Reifman, the city’s planning and development commissioner, and David Spielfogel, a former top City Hall aide.
After wrapping up in New York, Emanuel took a taxpayer-funded flight back to Washington. There he attended a ceremony for retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and appeared on a Brookings Institution panel, where he critiqued Clinton and other Democrats for focusing too much on social issues during the campaign.
He also had a half-hour meeting with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The city later announced it would receive $1 billion in federal funding to rebuild parts of the CTA’s Red Line and Purple Line.
The mayor returned to Chicago the evening of Dec. 9 but, after a day at home, took a trip to Austin paid for by his campaign fund. His first stop: a mansion owned by former cyclist and exposed doper Lance Armstrong, where the mayor did an hour-long interview for Armstrong’s podcast “The Forward.” Emanuel again advised Democrats to focus on an economic message.
They also discussed a March 2016 email, leaked to WikiLeaks, in which a Clinton ally advised her campaign staff to distance itself “big time” from Emanuel amid the Laquan McDonald fallout.
Emanuel dismissed the critic, saying: “I’m doing things in my public life that she talks about. And that’s what she does: talk.”
Emanuel attended a fund-raiser that afternoon at the Austin home of Charlie and Melanie Jones. Charlie Jones is one of the founders of C3 Presents, promoter of Lollapalooza, the huge festival held at Grant Park every summer.
Over the next couple of weeks, Emanuel’s campaign fund reported $55,950 in contributions from the Joneses, other C3 employees and people with Austin addresses.
Even when he was home, Democrats from throughout the country sought the counsel of Emanuel, who was the chief architect of the 2006 comeback that put the party back in control of Congress during the last term of George W. Bush. On Dec. 19, Emanuel scheduled 30 minutes for a call in his City Hall office with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a favorite of progressives.
The mayor resumed his travel soon after the holidays. On Jan. 6, he went back to Washington for a party celebrating Obama’s tenure. His campaign fund paid for the trip.
Three days later, Ford Motor Company picked up the tab for him to fly to Detroit for a lunch meeting with Mark Fields, the automaker’s president and chief executive. He also participated in a New York Times panel discussion.
A week after that, Emanuel flew to Washington for the Cubs’ visit to the White House, another meeting with Foxx and a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Before leaving town on Jan. 17, Emanuel met with Mike Pence, the vice president-elect. Collins says his travel expenses again were covered by a “mixture” of city and campaign money.
Two days later, during inauguration weekend in Washington, Emanuel used campaign funds to fly to Miami for a conference of Democratic campaign supporters and activists. Appearing on a lunchtime panel on Trump’s first 100 days, Emanuel argued in favor of working with the new administration on some issues rather than simply trying to obstruct it, according to The New York Times.
“My attitude is, there will be things that in the interest of the country we’re going to work on, and things we’re not because it’s not in the best interest,” Emanuel said.