Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s insider-deal appointment of Kurt Summers as city treasurer sailed through a City Council committee Monday with Chicago’s most powerful aldermen promising to fill Summers’ nominating petitions with signatures.
Summers is the equivalent of South Side political royalty. He is the Harvard-educated grandson of longtime community activist Sam Patch, a close adviser to former Mayor Harold Washington.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) gave Summers his first job in politics — by hiring him as an intern. In-between high-powered jobs in the finance industry, Summers also served as chief-of-staff to County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid committee.
On Monday, the Finance Committee sent Summers even further down a gilded path that may someday lead to the mayor’s office.
Aldermen approved Emanuel’s appointment of Summers to replace newly-retired City Treasurer Stephanie Neely eight years ago after a similar pre-election resignation of then-City Treasurer Judy Rice paved the way for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to pluck Neely out of political obscurity and appoint her to the $133,545-a-year job.
Even Rush has criticized Emanuel for following the familiar Chicago script, saying of Summers’ selection: “The person is perfect. The process has a lot to be desired.”
On Monday, there was no mention of the mayor’s decision to fill the coveted job before anyone else had a chance.
It was strictly a love-fest.
“This is a wonderful appointment. Your public sector experience, your private-sector experience all adds to the wonderful asset that you are and the fact that… you’re a Chicago person. You never left town,” said Ald. John Pope (10th).
Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said she loved Neely, but Summers will do an “even better” job.
“I know that [there] won’t be any shame brought to that particular office because you are an upright and righteous man,” she said.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) joked that his Southwest Side ward organization has been busy circulating Summers’ nominating petitions.
During his testimony, Summers said he was “humbled” to accept the mayor’s appointment and “uniquely-qualified” to preside over an office that manages $7 billion in assets and works with city employee pension funds to invest billions more.
He promised to expand on Neely’s plans to: make “micro-loans” to small business; educate students on “financial literacy” and do cost-saving trading and cash management for a host of local government agencies, not just the Chicago Park District.
“I’ll make smart investments, boost returns and cut the rates that we pay. That means I can help identify more money for the Council to invest in schools, economic development and public safety,” he said.
“We have to leverage that collective investment power to achieve the greatest savings and returns possible and, where prudent, leverage those assets to invest in Chicago neighborhoods.”
Emanuel has argued that he needed “more than a seat-warmer” because the treasurer sits on boards overseeing four city employee pension funds and there are 20 board meetings between now and the election.
On Monday, Summers said he’s already been to 30 different neighborhoods in the last two weeks alone to begin the formidable job of selling himself to Chicago voters.
“It’s great to have the appointment from the mayor. It’s great to have support from members of the Council and political leaders. But ultimately, you have to convince the voters and people on the ground. I take very seriously…the need for them to believe I’m the best person for the job in my own right,” he said.
As for the talk that he’s a rising star whose path could someday lead to the mayor’s office, Summers said: “It’s hard to think about things like that when I still have to get signatures to get on the ballot and I have to get elected and, on Dec. 1, I have to take an office and start doing the work.”