The public rift between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his pal Gov. Bruce Rauner got wider Thursday, thanks to Rauner’s decision to “immediately freeze” $28 million in state grants for 27 park improvement projects in Chicago.
Already on record as condemning Rauner’s doomsday budget, Emanuel demanded that the rookie governor “immediately reverse” the order conveyed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to the Chicago Park District.
Park projects placed in jeopardy by the governor’s order include renovations to the artificial turf fields and facilities at Columbus Park; facility renovations at Archer, Dvorak, Garfield, Hamilton, Douglas, Eckhart, Robichaux, Holstein and Harris Parks and the Lincoln Cultural Center; an expansion at Walsh Park and construction of an indoor track and field facility at Gately Park.
Also hanging in the balance is the so-called “Magid Glove” acquisition needed to complete the Bloomingdale Trail, also known as the “606.”
“It affects 27 different — not only parks, but 27 different neighborhoods that families depend on,” the mayor said after joining former Chicago Public Schools CEO-turned U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Ariel Community Academy. 1119 E. 46th Street, to discuss student financial literacy.
“We’re in the second year of making sure that we rebuild all the playgrounds in Chicago. It’s not just a playground or a park, although it is that. This is where the fabric of a community and neighborhood come together. This is why, from Day One, I opposed his budget and I opposed the idea of cuts in public transportation.”
Emanuel is campaigning for re-election — and fighting for his political life in the April 7 runoff against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — on a promise to make certain that every child in Chicago lives within a 10-minute walk of a park.
Over the last four years, Emanuel claims that his scorecard includes 750 additional acres of new parkland, 27 new turf fields, 17 new parks and 11 new community facilities. He also claims to have refurbished 150 playgrounds.
All of that progress is now in jeopardy as a result of Rauner’s freeze, the mayor contends.
“This is how you build a strong city, strong state. The fact is, parks and playgrounds are where our communities come together and where they’re strengthened. This is wrong-headed policy — another way of cutting and under-cutting our neighborhoods that are the backbone of Chicago,” the mayor said.
Emanuel and Rauner are longtime friends, education-reform allies and former business associates who made millions together. Their families have vacationed together.
That’s why Garcia has questioned the sincerity of Emanuel’s opposition to Rauner’s doomsday budget by noting that Emanuel and Rauner are “good friends” who talk regularly and share “expensive wines together.”
Last week, Emanuel set out to prove that he is, indeed, fighting for everyday Chicagoans and does not deserve the “Mayor 1 percent” label that his challenger has used to define him.
The mayor stood in front of a fire truck at a University Village firehouse used to film the show “Chicago Fire,” and condemned a Rauner budget that would devastate social services and force the 1,000 police layoffs.
“I philosophically, fundamentally disagree with indiscriminate cuts across the board without regard to impact,” the mayor said on that day.
“Do I look like a silent person? I’ve been very clear to all the leaders as well as to the governor that this budget will not stand. It’s wrong for Chicago. . . . This budget walks away from that future by not investing in our families and our children.”
Emanuel said then there are “certain people at least in the Rauner home who believe in early childhood education.”
The mayor was referring to the governor’s wife, Diana, who serves as president of the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which advocates for early childhood education programs that narrow the achievement gap for at-risk kids.
Instead of wielding the budget ax in a way that would deprive Chicago of “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Emanuel said, Rauner should home in on “corporate loopholes” like he did. Implied, but not stated, was the mayor’s claim that he had the guts to take on the corporate donors who filled his campaign fund with $15 million.
Garcia said last week he wasn’t fooled by the mayor’s argument that he’s really, truly fighting hard against the his pal’s budget.
“The mayor should go to Springfield and sit with Rauner. Maybe open up one of those expensive bottles [of wine] and figure out how he’s going to really fight for the people of Chicago when his buddy is the person who’s bringing on the bad news that will spare no one in the city of Chicago, especially the most vulnerable people,” Garcia said.
“I’m not blaming him. I’m saying he needs to fight for the city of Chicago and it happens to be that his friend is the proponent of the Draconian budget cuts that will devastate Chicago.”