Because dealing with aldermen has at times recently seemed to be more like herding cats than sheep, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted a dinner Tuesday night at a Loop oyster bar to sit down with the City Council’s 16 committee chairmen in a convivial setting.
The group sat in the back of the restaurant and ordered from a fixed menu of chicken and mahi-mahi. Drinks also were included.
“But nothing top shelf,” said an employee of Pearl Champagne and Oyster Bar, 180 N. Upper Wacker Dr.
More than two hours later, as dinner guests trickled out — some with their spouses — their descriptions of the dinner were nearly uniform.
“It was a very laid-back, social, nonchalant nice evening. There was no business discussed whatsoever,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
Ald. Ed Burke (14th) had this to say in response to several questions about the dinner and its purpose: “Very nice. . . . It was a very social event . . . very social . . . it was just very social.”
Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule, sat in the middle of a long table, flanked by Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and Ald. Howard Brookins (21st). Brookins said there was no seating arrangement.
“We laughed, we joked,” Brookins said of his bull session with Emanuel. “We talked about Donald Trump and a Trump presidency, what that would look like. It was really a social gathering.”
Eileen Mitchell, Emanuel’s chief of staff, politely chose not to share any details.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) suspected the dinner was a get-to-know-you affair for Anna Valencia, Emanuel’s new director of legislative counsel and government affairs, but Mitts wasn’t sure.
Several aldermen conceded that it hasn’t been Emanuel’s style to just throw get-togethers to chat and chew, but they declined any guesswork at mayoral motives.
“You’ll have to ask him,” they said.
It was the first time in five years that Emanuel had summoned the entire roster of committee chairmen together for a team meeting.
Emanuel, whose campaign picked up the tab, didn’t follow his guests out the front door. He used a different exit.
A waitress popped her head out the entrance to confirm this. “The mayor left,” she said.
The dinner comes at a time when Chicago aldermen have been showing rare signs of independence, emboldened by the Laquan McDonald controversy that has weakened Emanuel politically.
Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman, who first reported the dinner plan last week, noted that political pushback is at least part of the reason Emanuel hosted the meeting.
After campaigning for re-election on a promise to listen more and talk less, the mayor is trying to “build relationships” that he failed to build during his first term.
“We’ve had a little bit of a respite from things coming at us pretty fast. It’s just a chance to see what people are thinking about in a non-stressful atmosphere,” Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said last week.
A mayoral confidante, who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged last week that Emanuel did too much dictating and too little consensus-building during his first term in office.
“It’s better to engage aldermen. Work with them in partnership. Make them feel that their opinion matters,” the mayoral confidante said then.
“The mayor is finally trying to approach what he’s doing in a way more suited for a mayor. These are things that he didn’t do before and should have done before. But it’s never too late,” the confidante added.