Laura Washington: Emanuel displays skillful touch vs. Trump

SHARE Laura Washington: Emanuel displays skillful touch vs. Trump

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) presides over a City Council meeting last week. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Follow @MediaDervishChicago is Donald J. Trump’s piñata, and he is slinging a mean tweet.

That’s nothing new for Republican presidents. Ronald Reagan and the Bushes were not kind to big cities.

Yet this president harbors a special place in his “hell” for the Windy City.

Trump aimed numerous hits at Chicago during the presidential campaign, slamming the city’s out-of-control street crime.


Follow @MediaDervishEarlier this month, then-President-elect Trump tweeted, “If Mayor can’t do it he must ask for Federal help.”

Tuesday night he wrote, “If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds.”

Wednesday night, another swing:  “People are being shot left and right,” Trump told ABC-TV. “Chicago is like a war zone.”

“Look at Chicago. What’s going on in Chicago?” Trump exclaimed Thursday at a GOP congressional retreat in Philadelphia. “I said the other day, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”

Chicago is the quintessential, ultimate target for Trump’s demonization. He can sling, time and again, and score points with his blue collar, rural and small-town base that wants to “Make America Great Again.”

Why? Trump rose to national prominence by leading the “birther” movement, disparaging America’s first black president.

Chicago, Obama’s adopted hometown, is a predominately black/brown city. Its mayor is Obama’s former chief of staff, close friend, and tight ally. Rahm Emanuel was a harsh critic during the campaign. The message to Trump’s base: Chicago is an undeserving urban swamp, a budgetary burden.

Trump can find as many ways from Sunday to make Chicago a national whipping boy. That’s a costly, virulent threat to the city’s stability, tourism and investment.

Trump has issued an executive order that promises to punish cities that shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. It warned: “Jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply [with federal immigration laws] are not eligible to receive federal grants except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.”

Emanuel has drawn that line in the sand, vowing that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city.

The city is in line to receive $1.3 billion in federal funding in 2017, shows an analysis by Chicago’s Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. With Chicago’s beleaguered finances, we can’t afford to lose one dime.

What to do?

So far, Emanuel’s response has been remarkably calm and strategic. He wisely traveled to New York and Washington to meet with the new president, Vice President Mike Pence and others in Trump circles.

While other prominent Democrats are calling for a fire and brimstone assault on Trump’s every utterance, Emanuel has advised accommodation.

Emanuel could evolve from Mayor 1 Percent to Mayor Defender, champion of progressive causes in big cities. If he stands up to Trump, Emanuel can position himself as a champion for immigrants, the working classes and people of color.

Trump talks big. It’s too early to see how he will deliver. Emanuel can be the adult in the room. That should be the easy part.

Infrastructure spending, support for programs that ensure educational equity, resources for law enforcement and job creation are fertile places for conversation.

Trump is a dealmaker. Emanuel knows how to deal.


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