One month after drawing a line in the sand with Donald Trump on the volatile issue of immigration, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday talked about ways he believes he can work with the president-elect.
Emanuel emphasized the positive during an hourlong panel discussion with the mayors of Atlanta, Columbus, Ohio, and Detroit at the Detroit Auto Show.
It happened after a moderator asked Emanuel whether he left his face-to-face meeting with the president-elect at Trump Tower in Manhattan last month convinced that he could “get business done” with the incoming Republican administration.
“Well, there are certain things yes, and certain things no. . . . I was pretty clear about where we stood on immigration. . . . On the other hand, we then talked about transportation and I talked to him about the [Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] loan program and the [Rapid Innovation Fund] program and things we’re using in Chicago. . . . It’s basically an infrastructure bank in embryonic stages,” the mayor said.
“I gave him ideas on how to plus that up, bring private-sector money and you can leverage it. You don’t even need any money from the federal government. [No] new revenue. That’s our job. You just put more money into this loan program.”
The mayor noted that Chicago has or is using federal TIFIA loans to build the downtown riverwalk, an intermodal facility at O’Hare Airport and an ultra-modern replacement for the CTA’s 95th Street station.
“That was where we could cooperate because we have a mutual interest in rebuilding runways, roads and rail systems. . . . There will be places where we will cooperate and places where we’ll stand our ground and confront,” the mayor said.
Emanuel also shed some light on the private pitch he used to try to convince Trump to soften some of the hard-line views he articulated on the campaign trail about immigration.
“I said to him, without exposing too much because I respect the privacy of a conversation, ‘You’re an investor in New York City with a building. You’re an investor in Chicago with a building. You’re an investor in D.C. with a building. They’re all sanctuary cities. You haven’t invested in a property in a non-sanctuary city. So there must be something about a sanctuary city you find appealing as a real estate investor,’” the mayor said.
“I tried to appeal to him — not on the moral component because I think that’s self-evident — but as a business person. Why is it as a business person you’ve decided to invest in cities that are sanctuary cities? Because there’s a vitality and an energy . . . that immigrants add to.”
Emanuel served as President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff. Before that, he was a North Side congressman who engineered the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.
But he contended that City Hall is where the rubber meets the road.
“This is the government that’s most immediate and intimate to how people think they live their lives. Washington is Disneyland on the Potomac. And it’s gonna get more like it in the next four years,” the mayor said.
“That is how people think about their lives — that playground, that park, that train station, that neighborhood library and the technology that’s there. That’s how they think about government that touches their lives. That is both a great opportunity for us as mayors. And their ability to tell us what they think of what we’re doing is also immediate and intimate as well.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, target illegal immigrants and to cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities” where undocumented immigrants can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
The president-elect has since said he plans to begin by immediately deporting as many as 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records, then make a decision about the “terrific people” who make up the rest of the undocumented population.
Emanuel has said he does not believe Trump will cut off federal funding to Chicago and other “sanctuary cities” because Trump will have “bigger fish to fry” in a White House where you’re dodging constant political fire.
During last month’s meeting at Trump Tower, Emanuel urged Trump not to deport the children of illegal immigrants and not to cut off federal funding to sanctuary cities.
The mayor also pitched the president-elect for federal assistance for his two-year police hiring surge and for summer jobs, after-school and youth mentoring programs that Emanuel hopes will blunt a 60 percent rise in homicides and shootings.
On the same day, Trump softened his hard-line position on immigration. After Time Magazine named him “Person of the Year,” Trump told the magazine, “We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”