Rahm’s big plans for second term might include cleaning house at Board of Ed

SHARE Rahm’s big plans for second term might include cleaning house at Board of Ed

He has big plans for the second term he fought so hard and spent so much to win.

Get high-speed rail from downtown to O’Hare Airport started.

Bring top chefs’ restaurants to O’Hare’s domestic terminals.

Build a shared police and fire training academy.

Possibly clean house at the Chicago Board of Education in the face of an ongoing federal investigation.

But all of his grand ideas take a back seat to having to deal with the $30 billion pension crisis that’s dropped the city’s bond rating to the junk status shared among big cities only by Detroit.

On Monday at the Chicago Theatre, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 55, will be sworn in for his second term in an inauguration ceremony that might well be his last.

His own friends liken the political dilemma that lies ahead for Emanuel to the one faced by President Harry Truman. They say decisions the mayor will be forced to make will be so difficult and politically unpopular that he either won’t be able to run again or will choose not to.

“I am energized by the both the opportunities and challenges that I face,” Emanuel says. “They’re daunting, yet they’re incredible.

“It’s premature for anybody to say, ‘Just these four years, and that’s it.’ I haven’t even put my hand on the Bible.

“But I’ve told everybody I want us to govern as if we ran our last election. Not to govern because I’ve ran my last election. So don’t twist my words. But I’m gonna say this to the City Council: ‘I want you to feel liberated as if you have run your last election. What will you do then with that liberty?’ ”

In an interview ahead of the inauguration, Emanuel talked about the ocean of issues that confront the city and about the dark cloud that hangs over his second term now that the Illinois Supreme Court has overturned state pension reforms and placed city reforms in similar jeopardy.

Question: I know you don’t like to say the name Richard M. Daley. But do you ever curse him under your breath because of the mess he left behind?

Answer: No. . . . I generally as a rule try to avoid the blame game. For other people, it may be a cathartic exercise. I’m more interested in using my emotional and mental energy on trying to find a solution.

Q.: Why not blame Daley?

A: Mayor Daley is both a friend, a mentor. Being in this office, you understand the pressures on it. My responsibility is to find an answer to the problems that were here. This is a serious one. But what happened here is not one person. . . . There are a lot of hands on the bloody knife, not one. . . . Which is why I also say Springfield has responsibility to help us. Take a look at police and fire. They mandated that, in 2016, you’ve got to make up for everything else that wasn’t done in the past. It was a blunt instrument to a very difficult [problem]. We’re living with their edict.

Q: The wording of the Supreme Court ruling was so strong. Haven’t you lost your leverage with police and fire unions?

A: I’ve said since Day 1 . . . that this day of reckoning was gonna come. We can’t put it off. Which is why I went so hard on getting both Laborer and Muncipal [pension fund reforms] done. And we are having right now healthy discussions with police and fire on how to resolve their pension security needs in a way that does not unfairly burden taxpayers.

VIDEO: Rahm Emanuel on the city’s junk bond rating

Q: How do you get away with any benefit cuts and make them stand up legally? Won’t reforms you’ve already negotiated for the two funds be thrown out?

A: The state is under a legal obligation to pay for the pension. We were never as a city. What we negotiated with Laborers and Municipal did something fundamentally different from where the city’s position has always been. We said we will guarantee payment. We’re not impairing. We’re preserving the pension. Actions in the last 30 years reflect that we were never a guarantor. The state pension bill actually took money out. We add money in every year. Fundamental difference.

Q: If you’re wrong, what happens?

A: I’m not gonna go in to court tactically with a public position, “The mayor says, ‘If we’re wrong here . . .’ ” But more importantly, we don’t believe we’re wrong.

Q. You must have a Plan B.

A: We believe we’re right. . . . I don’t think it’s the appropriate thing to discuss a Plan B while you’re going to court on Plan A.

Q: Is there any way out for CPS other than bankruptcy or a form of it?

A: There is a way out. It requires deft political [handling] and everybody working together. All the players know that exists. And because that exists, it has an ability to focus the mind and start to do things and act in a way of a partnership that didn’t exist before.

Q: But it’s out there and it’s a real possibility, right?

A: Correct. It is out there. . . . It’s in the distance. . . . Things that you before said were off the table have to be part of the discussion if you want to avoid this. [Bankruptcy] means that judge over there will decide everything. The ability to shape your future is out of your hands.

Q: Doesn’t bankruptcy give you freedom to do things you otherwise couldn’t?

A: I’m a pragmatist that people operate from this perspective: They’d rather take their future into their own hands, rather than hand it off to somebody else.

Q: What about a School Finance Authority like there was under Jane Byrne — oversight short of bankruptcy?

A: Everybody has to look at all options. . . . [The benefit would be] there’d be a third-party working together as part of finances. I’m not gonna come with a pre-prescribed attitude. . . . You can’t come and say `no’ to any change.

Q: Moody’s has made a decision that you’ve criticized. But the damage is done. Junk status means hundreds of millions of dollars in added costs.

A: There’s two types of costs. One is reputational, and that’s temporary. The other is financial.

Q: Your access to the capital markets will be restricted.

A: No. That’s where you’re wrong. I have two years of investment banking over you. It’s not restricted. It is more expensive.

Q: How much?

A: We don’t know that yet. The cost is, if you have to spend this [much] more to keep the government operating.

Q: What needs to be sacrificed?

A: We’re gonna continue zero-based budgeting operationally. No vacancies get filled outside of public safety. You have to justify filling that vacancy. And we’re gonna start making changes, both in the operating budget and in other places to continue to wring out inefficiencies. . . . If you want to continue or expand something, show me what you’re willing to change.

Q: What about new revenue ideas?

A: The [budget] office is also looking at things. It’s about . . . how to avoid doing a property-tax [increase].

Q: What about legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana?

A: I’m against it. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do.

Q: Video poker?

A: I’m against it. I believe the right thing to do is a casino because it’s part of an entertainment area. . . . You can get away from it. It’s different than having it throughout the city.

Q: Where would you put the casino if you get one?

A: If people think I’m negotiating by going through you, I’m not gonna build trust necessary for getting the best deal for the city. . . . It’s part of our entertainment and hospitality industry. That would be a basic principle.

Q.: That could be Navy Pier, Lakeside Center or Michael Reese.

A: It’s part of our convention and hospitality, and it should reinforce that.

Q: The CTA is bracing for the governor’s budget cuts. Won’t there have to be a fare increase?

A: I can’t say that at this point.

Q: If the federal investigation at CPS precludes the return of schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the regimes of two educators will have ended badly. Will you switch to a business model —the Forrest Claypool model? Send him over, just like Daley did with Ron Huberman and Paul Vallas?

A: Vallas was there when they made no pension contributions. I’m not exactly sure that’s the model I want to follow.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his office at City Hall. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his office at City Hall. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Q: What about Claypool?

A: Can I keep him for chief of staff for an hour?

Q: What about the school board? Didn’t they abrogate their responsibility in approving the $20.5 million, no-bid principal-training contract? Are you thinking about asking all of them to resign and starting over?

A: Of course. I’m thinking about all of the boards. Not just that one. . . . Who’s got the energy? Who’s got the drive to stay doing this? And if you don’t, be honest with me. Not CPS alone. . . . You’ll be hearing more in short order.

VIDEO: Rahm Emanuel on the Chicago Public Schools

Q: You have big plans for O’Hare.

A: Concessions, routes, transportation. And the biggest piece, the last piece, is negotiations with the carriers as it relates to expansion, which is essential to the city.

Q: What about concessions?

A: There’s a lesson to be learned by what I did at the international terminal. Today, O’Hare has the single best international terminal in the United States . . . I want the domestic terminals, when we do the concessions, to look and feel like the international so people have an experience. I want them to be like Chicago so the 60 million people coming in and out say, “That’s Chicago.” Look at Rick Bayless in there, and you have a feeling of Chicago. Can we bring some of the culinary experiences that people have in the city to O’Hare? A lot of our top chefs want to have something there.

Q: Routes?

A: We’re well-positioned in Europe. We’re well-positioned in North America. We’re well-positioned in Asia. [But] the fastest-growing market in Latin America, we’re not. I want them to start working on the Latin-American routes.

Q: What about high-speed rail from downtown to O’Hare?

A: An express service from the city to the airport would be a game-changer to the economics of the overall region but most importantly for Chicago . . . I want to get that eventually started.

Q: Do you do that from that expensive hole in the ground at Block 37? Or are there other ways?

A: There’s one other way. That’s [Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans’] job to explore some ideas kicking around in how to do it.

Q: You’ve emphasized the need for ongoing police training. Mayor Daley talked about replacing the police and fire academies with one, ultra-modern facility. Will you get that done?

A: Yes. I’ve been looking at it for a while. I’ve thought about a modern public safety training facility that not only consolidates but saves money, is more efficient and gives you the type of place that prepares both police and fire. We’re working on the financial piece

Q: How is it financed? Do you need to raise the telephone tax?

A: No. We may have a way.

VIDEO: Rahm Emanuel on Supt. Garry McCarthy’s comments on the Rekia Boyd case

Q: When police Supt. Garry McCarthy said acquitted Detective Dante Servin never should have been indicted — that he hit the guy he was aiming at but “happened to hit” Rekia Boyd, was that insensitive? Did you cringe?

A: This is one those things where there are multiple audiences. I know how different audiences heard different things. I, as mayor, have to be sensitive to all that. And the time it was said [on the day Baltimore riots erupted] I am sensitive to that. . . . I understand what the superintendent was speaking to and why he felt it was his responsibility to address it. [But] there are many people who heard it — not just the men and women in the police department.

Q: Is he staying for the four years?

A: Yeah.

Q: The new City Council has 13 new aldermen and a Progressive Caucus that could be twice as big. Will that make your life more difficult?

A: No. I’ve met with a number of leaders in the Progressive Caucus. I’ve met with [newly elected aldermen]. I said, `The election is behind us. . . . How do I make sure your residents are successful because they’re my residents?’

Q: You’re a rock music fan. Where do you stand on the Riot Fest controversy?

A: I’m a fan of the fact that Chicago is a unique city for music venues. And I’m not just talking about Lollapalooza. Whether it’s Jazz Fest, Blues Fest, Gospel — all the festivals that are [located at] outside park venues make us a unique place.

Q: Should it stay in Humboldt Park?

A: Well, I saw today that they made a reference to the beach, which is the first step toward the corporate responsibility they must show as a venue. I want to talk to the alderman before I talk to you.

Q: The Koschman cops —will they ever be punished?

A: How are you asking me to prescribe what the [City Hall inspector general] has concluded before the IG? It’s not my fault [that it’s taking so long]. I did my job. I settled up. The IG is doing his job.

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