Why did Emanuel move his major policy address on violence?

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits members of the Becoming a Man program in 2013 — a program he wants to expand to other youths. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

It’s not only what you say that matters, but how, when and to whom you say it.

That might be, at least part of the reason why Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed back the date and time of a major policy address on violence that could be one of the most important speeches of his political career to give his critics less time to pick his ideas apart.

Instead of outlining his battle plan during the work day on Tuesday, Emanuel will deliver the most anticipated speech since his public apology for the police shooting of Laquan McDonald at 6 p.m. Thursday before a supportive, invitation-only audience at the new Malcolm X College.


That ensures live coverage on local TV newscasts at 6 p.m. It also pretty much guarantees that Emanuel’s unfiltered message will dominate social media and newspaper websites throughout the night, lead TV newscasts at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. and carry through in print and TV newscasts on the morning after.

Less time before deadline gives critics less time to pick the mayor’s heavily-packaged ideas apart. And with attendance limited to invited guests, the most vociferous of the mayor’s critics will be hard to find.

Asked Monday to explain the delay, Emanuel talked about the need to do what he failed to do during his first term as mayor: get buy-in from stakeholders instead of dictating paternalistic solutions from on high.

“Given all of the coordination [necessary to talk about everything from] — not only policing, but also very importantly about mentoring for our children to also our community investments, you want to get it right and you want to make sure everybody has a chance to weigh in on what they think is important,” Emanuel said.

“I’m . . . listening to people about successes they’re having and how do we kind of take what is a success in a neighborhood on public safety and scale it up to a city effort — rather than a neighborhood effort . . . I want everybody’s input in that effort, not just for the speech but going forward that we all work together towards what we want for all our neighborhoods and all our kids.”

Emanuel said there is “no doubt” that jobs and economic development are a “key part” of making sure people “have hope, where there is despair” at a time when Chicago’s record-high black unemployment rate is a driving force behind the 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings.

That’s why he made it a point to take London Mayor Sadiq Khan to the new Whole Foods that’s about to open in the city’s impoverished Englewood community, providing hundreds of jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs.

“In the heart of Englewood, there springs an opportunity for economic growth and jobs that’s key [to] peoples’ livelihoods as much as it is key as a deterrent to further violence and gunfire,” the mayor said.

“We know this is a complex problem and challenge. And whether it’s gangs or guns, whether it’s jobs and economic opportunity, whether it’s police or community relationships and whether it’s making sure that another generation of children are not lost to gangs when we can get `em on the right course, I’m gonna address public safety in a comprehensive way.”

If anticipation is building for the mayor’s speech, it’s only because Emanuel has heightened expectations.

He’s called it a “major policy address” that will include a police hiring blitz and focus on what Emanuel calls the “four p’s”: policing, punishment, prevention and parenting.

The parenting piece is potentially perilous territory, particularly if Emanuel insists on confronting the issue of absentee fathers in African-American families in the harsh terms he has used during private previews with stakeholders.

Emanuel has talked about encountering only one black father in all of the homes, hospital rooms, churches and funerals he has visited after innocent children were gunned down or wounded on the streets of Chicago.

To fill that void, Emanuel plans a dramatic expansion in the “Becoming a Man” mentoring program that targets adolescent and teenage boys. BAM served 2,700 students in the last school year and has seen crimes fall and graduation rates soar among its participants. The mayor wants to boost the funding for BAM and other mentoring programs to include 8,000 students.

Some stakeholders have quarreled with the mayor’s tough-love message, noting that it’s not that black fathers don’t want to be with their children. It’s only that too many dads are either in prison for minor drug offenses or dead.

Others have questioned whether Emanuel has the credibility to deliver the uncomfortable message at a time when he faces deep distrust among African-American voters furious about his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video and convinced that their unsafe neighborhoods are still being left behind.

On Monday, the mayor gave no hint on whether he plans to tone down the conversation that he started in his second inaugural address.

He would only say, “There’s a significance in making sure that our kids have the right kind of role models and values in their life, so they can make decisions today that will impact their lives in an appropriate, positive way . . . and we don’t have another generation that falls [prey] to the lure of gangs.”

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