Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday he’s troubled by the black exodus from Chicago, but that it’s absurd for Democratic gubernatorial challenger Chris Kennedy to suggest it’s part of a plot engineered by the mayor to “whiten” the city.
If Kennedy has ideas to fight crime, improve schools or bring jobs to downtrodden Chicago neighborhoods, the mayor said he’s all ears.
But what he won’t tolerate is “insults” that denigrate and divide Chicago. Emanuel has remained publicly neutral in the governor’s race, while his closest allies and financial backers rally behind billionaire J.B. Pritzker.
“It is easy to cast blame and to point fingers…Where are the ideas? Where are the solutions — real solutions to real challenges that make those challenges opportunities….I’m looking forward to ideas — not insults,” the mayor said after touring a West Side plant being used to manufacture streetlights.
“I welcome ideas from everybody. But if what you have is something described in [a newspaper editorial] as ‘hallucinatory,’ as ‘imaginary’ — we have one city with one future.”
In his first public appearance after a long family vacation, Emanuel was asked why he believes African-Americans are leaving the city in droves and whether he’s troubled by it.
“Of course it troubles me. Which is why we’re making investments in the neighborhoods across the city,” the mayor said.
“That’s a longer discussion that’s worthy of a serious discussion of the change going on in the city and the population, where a lot more people are moving in. Different people. Some people are moving out. It has to do with a lot of different factors — not one factor…What do you do to change that? That’s different than trying to cast blame as if this is somebody’s plan.”
Earlier this week, Kennedy accused the mayor of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents of Chicago.
In a statement Friday, Kennedy spokeswoman Rebecca Evans said while Pritzker “continues to remain silent to protect the political establishment,” Kennedy “has the political courage to speak truth to power.”
“Chris Kennedy isn’t hiding behind $17 million worth of scripted TV ads. He will use his voice to stand up for what is right even if it’s calling out inconvenient truths that are hurting people of color in Chicago. . .,” Evans said in a statement.
The wild charge – from a fellow Democrat who solicited the mayor’s support just a few months ago – hit Emanuel where it hurts.
The mayor was elected in 2011 on the strength of the African-American vote and re-elected in 2015 with help from black voters who forgave him for closing a record 50 public schools.
Emanuel has spent the last two years trying to rehabilitate an image with black voters that took a beating after his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
The video played around the world of white Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times was released in November 2015 only after a judge ordered the city to do so.
The mayor fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and replaced him with Eddie Johnson, an African-American who didn’t even apply for the job. He implemented police reforms and embarked on a two-year plan to hire 970 additional police officers with South and West Side districts receiving the biggest chunk.
He hired Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp to serve as a $185,004-a-year deputy mayor and chief neighborhood development officer. Zopp has since moved on to World Business Chicago.
The mayor also proposed: a series of incentive programs aimed at boosting minority contracting and employment; a $100 million Catalyst Fund to bridge the funding gap outside the downtown area; and a Robin Hood plan to let downtown developers build bigger and taller projects so long as they share the wealth with impoverished neighborhoods.
Emanuel on Friday also took a shot at his old friend, Gov. Bruce Rauner, for checking himself into a veteran’s home in Quincy amid criticism of the state’s handling of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.
The mayor urged Rauner to “bring his sleeping bag” up to the shell of a veterans home on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where construction has ground to a halt.
“That’s supposed to have 75 beds where veterans are supposed to be sleeping. He canceled work on that project. Put it to a halt. It’s empty,” Emanuel said.
“So, when you’re done staying [in Quincy], bring your sleeping bag and you can go stay up there and, hopefully, you’ll realize why that project should be finished and the 75 veterans can be sleeping there in a warm facility.”