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Emanuel’s floor leader contemplating retirement after 35 years in City Council

Video by Ashlee Rezin and Eliza Davidson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader said Thursday he will decide in about a week whether to retire from politics and predicted whoever is elected mayor will have their hands full with at least 15 new aldermen.

“I don’t know that I’d retire from the working world, but maybe from the fishbowl world,” Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), a 35-year Council veteran, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Every time I turn around, some friend of mine is either dying or got cancer. You wonder how many more years do you have to be active and happy? Do I want spend the next four years working as hard as I have being at the beck and call of people that, otherwise, I wouldn’t be hanging around with?”

O’Connor said the decision on whether or not to seek re-election will be based, in part, on results of a poll and door-to-door canvassing in his North Side ward.

But the poll will not be the only factor.

O’Connor is also waiting to see whether Emanuel definitively decides to seek a third term. If the mayor doesn’t run, his floor leader is almost certain to call it quits.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor told Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman he’s thinking of retirement. O’Connor has been on the Chicago City Council for 35 years. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Ald. Patrick O’Connor told Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman he’s thinking of retirement. O’Connor has been on the Chicago City Council for 35 years. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

And the 64-year-old O’Connor is taking stock of his own health, his own family, the difficult votes that await the new City Council and the angry mood of an electorate buried by tax increases and facing more of the same and even more furious about “intangibles.”

“They’re mad at the president. They’re mad at the country for having him as president. They’re mad at government in general. They don’t like the status quo,” O’Connor said.

“They’ve elected new people trying to change directions and they find out, sometimes, it’s disastrous. Look at the presidency. Look at the governor. … They might be successful businessmen. But government has places that lose money and can’t be profit centers. You can’t go into government with the idea that you can run it like a business.”

It is that angry and unpredictable electorate that has O’Connor predicting a 30 percent turnover in the City Council.

And it’s not just the 15 new faces he’s worried about.

It’s the strident politics and unrealistic expectations at a time when the tax base is shrinking, the five-year ramp to actuarial funding is ending and Chicago taxpayers will soon be on the hook to come up with nearly $1 billion in new revenue to keep four city employee pension funds on the road to 90 percent funding.

“On the right, we criticize them for being conservative to the point of being abusive and intolerant and you can’t have an opinion that is different than theirs. And on the far left, it’s the exact same persona with just different values,” O’Connor said.

“You’ve got Bernie Sanders. You’ve got the Chuy [Garcia] phenomenon. … Who ever thought you’d be able to say, ‘I’m a Democratic Socialist,’ and people would say, ‘That’s a good thing.’ Any mayor is gonna have their hands full moving forward as long as the country continues to move forward on this path.”

Ald. Edward Burke (14th) has a political bullseye on his back after his brother, state Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), was defeated by political newcomer Aaron Ortiz in a primary race dominated by Edward Burke’s property tax reduction work for the riverfront hotel and condominium tower that bears the name of President Donald Trump.

Burke has since cited “irreconcilable differences” for his decision to stop representing Trump. That hasn’t stopped Garcia and his allies from recruiting a challenger.

On Thursday, O’Connor acknowledged Burke was slow to recognize the affront to his constituents caused by his tax work for Trump and, as a result, is among the list of endangered incumbents.

“He represented Trump when Trump was a TV personality. It would be like representing Monte Hall. It’s not like he went out and represented a guy who was this nasty, Twittering kind of anti-immigrant, anti-minority individual,” O’Connor said.

“It obviously gave an opening to people who want to use that. But let’s be honest. He would have a target on his back, given the make-up of his ward, if he never even saw Donald Trump or ever represented him. The Hispanic community has been trying to win in wards that are majority Hispanic, yet represented by non-Hispanic aldermen for the last 15 years.”

O’Connor also lit into mayoral challengers Paul Vallas and Lori Lightfoot for taking pot-shots at a $10 billion pension borrowing without offering their own solutions to Chicago’s pension crisis.

And he shot down Burke’s plan to follow New York City’s lead by capping ride-hailing licenses while cracking the door open to a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers.