In early January, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel of being part of a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of Chicago.
The wild charge hit Emanuel where it hurts — so much so that the mayor used his private email accounts to circulate a newspaper story about what he called “Chris Kennedy’s divisive fantasy.” His supporters rallied to the cause with some tough love advice.
That was among the discoveries in a trove of private emails obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. Private emails written to and from Emanuel during the months of January, February and March were released in response to a Freedom of Information request.
For the most part, they once again show that political heavy-hitters and campaign contributors are no longer pitching their ideas to Emanuel on the mayor’s private email accounts at the risk of attracting attention from Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics.
“I do not agree or think that you are secretly trying to push black folks out. Trust me. [But], I do feel the South and West Sides are severely lacking in resources,” activist priest Rev. Michael Pfleger wrote to the mayor in response to the “divisive fantasy” clip.
“And I do feel folks around you are not helping, e.g. … the lack of community engagement in the Englewood school plan, Streets and Sanitation going down and removing homeless folks belongings in one of the coldest stretches in history and more. But, another time.”
Pfleger concluded: “Joe Citizen believes you are a mayor in charge so none of this happened without your ok. So folks under you either think these things are ok with you or don’t care. I am not your enemy. I respect you. I will always be honest with you.”
Longtime Democratic activist and public relations maven Marilyn Katz continued the tell-it-to-you-straight approach in an exchange with the mayor’s chief of staff Joe Deal with a copy sent to Emanuel.
Katz noted there has been “an actual and substantial increase in investments in the African-American communities over the past seven years” under Emanuel.
“That is not to say that things are great. The leaving of firms like Nabisco, etc. — which you should have challenged. I did — [and] the recession have been unkind to the city and Illinois, reducing peoples’ incomes, reducing good jobs and replacing them with lower paid ones. That said, I believe investment is actually up. … You should be quantifying that,” Katz wrote.
Katz, who has done work for the Chicago Housing Authority, argued there is “more affordable housing available to more people in more communities than ever before,” that “vouchers have been increased from 30,000 to 47,000” and that CHA owned or co-owned apartments are now available in 75 neighborhoods.
“Someone should have this data. As to African-Americans leaving, I suggest that you … dig deeper behind the numbers to understand what is up. Come on guys, there is plenty to be said,” Katz wrote.
“Should you follow my suggestion and do the easily accessible research, you could then decide who should study or say things. You simply saying these facts will not cut it. You need third-party, respected validators. Yep, it’s time to turn a tennis match into a team sport.”
The mayor’s private emails also remain a gripe channel with most of the email traffic in one direction and a lot of it focused on crime.
On Jan. 23, Karen Pillsbury fired off an angry email to the mayor to unload about the carjacking of an off-duty police officer outside Drummond Montessori School at 11:03 a.m., while students were at recess. That followed three daylight armed robberies in Bucktown 10 days before.
“A citizen should be able to walk down the street at 12:45 p.m. on a Friday. All the CAPS meetings and being aware of one’s surroundings aren’t fixing this. It’s about resources. Our ward isn’t getting them,” Pillsbury wrote.
“You’re raising our taxes by the highest percent in the city and now, people are being held up at gunpoint. Enough is enough. Your tax and voter base are leaving. What is the plan here, Mr. Mayor?”
Bucktown resident Jessica Montrie wrote to “respectfully implore” Emanuel to bolster police presence in the 14th District after a “significant increase in carjackings, muggings and shootings” that has “drastically affected our quality of life in a very good neighborhood.”
“We live in fear. The kind of fear that makes you move out of our beloved city and neighborhood,” she wrote.
Mollie Stromberg, a Drummond parent, made a similar complaint, reminding the mayor of the anguish he felt when his own son was mugged a few doors down from Emanuel’s Ravenswood home.
“Am certain that when your child was a victim of a crime that you felt the same way our Bucktown community is feeling with many recent carjackings and armed robberies,” Stromberg wrote.
When Stromberg suggested the mayor’s office reach out to Drummond Montessori Principal Erica Kittle, Emanuel responded, “She should be getting a call from the commander in 14, your district. Some other parent wrote rude note to me.”
The mayor subsequently wrote, “Eight new officers for 14 District. Over the year, more to come. I checked some data since last email. Commander has a decline in robberies and burglaries. I know it does not feel that way. But, it does reflect improvement.”
Even 1871 founder Howard Tullman got in on the act in February email to the mayor: “Lots of ugly crime in our neighborhood and very unhappy neighbors.”
For the second straight quarter, Northwest Side residents filled the mayor’s inbox with complaints about a hotly contested Jefferson Park apartment development plan that includes affordable housing supported by Ald. John Arena (45th).
“First, you are not burdening me. Second, we always scrutinize any development that requires or more accurately seeks public assistance tax dollars. Third, I am going to let my planning staffers know of your views and you can keep them informed,” the mayor wrote.
“I know these are tough times and issues. Really believe that leaning in on the community-driven process we discussed can move forward from managing an issue to practically tackling the challenge. Here to help. Hang in there.”
Jeffrey Hecktman, chairman and CEO of Hilco Global, wrote the mayor after driving into Chicago on the Kennedy Expressway and being “appalled” to see a grassy berm between Wilson and Addison “filled with an enormous amount of litter.”
“It is unacceptable and unappealing for those driving into Chicago and makes a terrible first impression for those not familiar with our wonderful city,” Hecktman wrote.
Hecktman asked where he should “send this same report to help the situation.”
Emanuel replied, “Your governor … I actually did the same to staff today. State of Illinois manages those roads.”
Fred Glasper fired off an angry email about a far more parochial beef.
“I voted for you and never imagined that you would let your staff do such a bone-head thing as close Potbelly’s at Midway Airport. So popular and well-run,” Glasper wrote.
Not all of the private emails were citizen beefs.
Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, now senior vice president of corporate affairs for Amazon, emailed the mayor on the January day that Chicago made the cut of 20 cities still in the running for Amazon’s second North American headquarters.
“We look forward to diving deeper on Chicago’s proposal….Everyone here was impressed with the proposal your team put together,” Carney wrote.
“Yes aware. Thanks,” Emanuel replied.
“Hope you saw the recognition of our neighborhoods (7) that have it all!”
Carney replied, “I did. Good stuff.”
Emanuel parried, “Whose your daddy? Talk soon. Hope family is good.”
Richard Sandor, chairman and CEO of Environmental Financial Products LLC, wrote a “Dear Rahm and Bruce” email to Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner, suggesting an “out-of-the-box” idea that “might be politically unacceptable, but could nevertheless sweeten Chicago’s $2.5 billion bid for HQ2.
“As you know, naming rights have enormous value. Would something like Amazon O’Hare Airport be of help and even be acceptable to the city and state?” Sandor wrote.
Jack Lanahan, a former Emanuel congressional staffer now representing the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 241, wrote the mayor to ask about the possibility of the union relocating its headquarters to a shuttered public school in an under-served area.
As always, Emanuel used his private emails to sell influential members of the news media—including Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Bruce Dold and David Brooks of the New York Times—on the academic progress of Chicago Public Schools students.
Kimbal Musk, the entrepreneur, philanthropist and restauranteur brother of visionary Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, wrote a “Hey, Rahm” email seeking a small favor.
“Next week, I’m announcing that I’m giving away my model 3 to the lucky winner from anyone who donates $10 to Big Green, our new name for our learning garden non-profit,” said Kimbal Musk, whose brother is one of two bidders vying to build an elusive express train between downtown and O’Hare Airport.
“Would you be open to posting something on Twitter/Instagram to support? We can send you something quality/funny to post.”
Kimbal Musk and Emanuel have a history of scratching each other’s backs.
Five years ago, Kimbal Musk agreed to install 100 “learning gardens” in Chicago schools. Last month, the mayor’s wife Amy Rule hosted a fundraising dinner at the Garfield Park Conservatory for Kimbal Musk’s charity, The Kitchen Community.”
Investment manager Muneer Satter wrote the mayor to ask if Emanuel and his wife would agree to serve as honorary chairs of the Nature Conservancy’s 60th anniversary gala at Northerly Island on May 19.
Satter is one of Emanuel’s most reliable campaign donors, having contributed roughly $360,000 to the mayor or the political action committee formed to elect his City Council allies since 2014 alone.
“Will make it work. Call Jasmine Monday with details or your assistant,” Emanuel responded to Satter.
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of the mayor’s closest friends in politics, wrote to congratulate the mayor on his $8.7 billion O’Hare Airport expansion plan.
“Fantastic announcement about O’Hare expansion. Great vision and team effort led by Mayor RAHM,” LaHood wrote.
Emanuel replied, “Can you put a statement out?”
LaHood answered, “Of course. Have your press guy call me.”