Once known as a clout highway, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s private emails have turned into a largely one-way street, where everyday Chicagoans — and the occasional mayoral pal — pitch their beefs to the city’s chief executive.
Private emails written to and from Emanuel this past October, November and December — released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information Act request —show that political heavy-hitters and campaign contributors are no longer pitching their ideas to Emanuel on the mayor’s private email accounts, to avoid attracting attention from Chicago’s reinvigorated Board of Ethics.
That’s even though the board has backed off its threat to heavily fine those who have lobbied the mayor through his private emails but failed to register as lobbyists.
Instead, the mayor’s private emails have become a gripe channel with most of the email traffic in one direction — the mayor’s.
“North Fremont coach house demolition without a building permit. Same donors and contractor who flagrantly violated building/zoning codes on North Fremont. Same contractor your friends used to violate building code on North Dayton. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?” an anonymous emailer wrote in a Dec. 13 email with the subject line, “Your fraudster donors at it again.”
Trisha Kannon was just one of many Northwest Side residents to fill 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).
“Attached please find part of the alderman’s strategy to drown out hundreds of concerned residents in Jefferson Park objecting to the extremely dense high-rise in a commercial corridor that will further crowd schools that are suffering at 164 percent” capacity, Kannon wrote.
“We have organized, raised money, filed suits and energized the ward. Please do not mistake an expensive, calculated PR campaign as the voices of voters that LIVE there. This building would alter the ward irrevocably. We choose the sleepy, quiet part of the ward for a reason. Please do not WASTE valuable, critical tax credits and funding on this project.”
Later, neighbor Katie Fisher thanked the mayor for “listening to the actual residents of Jefferson Park and hearing the truth behind why we are against,” what she called, “Ald. Arena’s high density transformation plan.”
“You have listened to us when our own aldermen wouldn’t,” Fisher wrote.
“You have my vote in 2019. Thank you for being a strong leader and representing Chicago the way you do.”
Rachel Gottlieb grabbed the mayor’s attention in a private email with the subject line, “My young daughter was almost killed.”
She told the frightening story of how her daughter nearly was run over by a car while Gottlieb and another mother were attempting to cross the street with their five young children between two buildings operated by the Old Town School of Folk Music.
That’s because the Chicago Department of Transportation has ignored the community’s many pleas to install a mid-block crosswalk in the 4400 block of North Lincoln, Gottlieb said.
“Two of our youngest were holding hands with each other and the very youngest in the group darted ahead of the mothers, pulling my daughter with her. A car nearly hit them. … My daughter will remember this terrible moment for the rest of her life,” Gottlieb wrote.
“I am pleading with you on my knees to please paint a crosswalk between the two Old Town School buildings. This will give safe passage to children and concert-goers at a spot where they are going to cross anyway.”
This time, Emanuel responded quickly.
“They are strongly looking into it. Not done yet. CDOT aware of my interest and expressed concerned parents,” the mayor wrote.
Gottlieb asked, “Will you champion the crosswalk?”
Emanuel replied, “Called it in already. Some challenge because of Wilson light. But, they heard.”
It wasn’t clear what came of the inquiry, but Gottlieb was impressed by the mayor’s quick response.
“You are my hero! And I will shout it from today’s treetop — Facebook. Thank you so much! You’re a wonderful man,” she wrote.
Linda Feldmann used the mayor’s private email account to beef about what she considered a lethargic across-the-board response to a fire that damaged the garage at a Bridgeport building she owns. It was just one of several garage fires that had put Bridgeport residents on edge.
“This is the big city. There’s lots of crime. But, you would think a pattern of fires would raise some concerns amongst the police, fire, alderman personnel,” she wrote.
“I feel like I got the run-around with the police and fire and the alderman’s office all tangentially `involved,’ but none really caring or taking ownership. I just thought you would like to know what it’s like to be a ‘customer’ in the city of Chicago.”
Personal injury lawyer Bob Clifford let the mayor have it, snidely, about the danger to motorists — and the accompanying financial risk to Chicago taxpayers — created by those gaping potholes that have some city streets looking more like the surface of the moon.
“2 CPD injured and wrecked car today after hitting pothole. And you think I’m a nag? Told you so,” Clifford wrote the mayor in late October.
Emanuel replied without explanation, “You don’t know the story!”
White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf wrote to protest Emanuel’s plan to bankroll an amusement tax waiver for neighborhood theaters and concert venues with fewer than 1,500 seats by raising the amusement tax on major concerts from 5 percent to 9 percent.
“Have you considered the fact that, by raising the amusement tax, there is a strong possibility that there will be a net revenue loss to the city as a result of concerts that divert to Rosemont or another city?” the Sox honcho wrote, noting that the Sox had done a study that would “shed some light on that.”
Emanuel said he was willing to look at the study, but said, “We have run ours as well and we make money.”
On the day the City Council voted 47 to 3 to approve a 2018 city budget that included the amusement tax overhaul, Emanuel sent an early-morning email to one of his supporters, Chicago actor David Schwimmer, formerly of “Friends.”
“Today was a great day for community performers and youth arts education Thanks for supporting,” the mayor wrote.
Former Chicago Board of Education member and powerful banker Norm Bobins even beefed to the mayor, albeit delicately, about the urgent need for more “manpower and resources” from the 1st and 18th Districts to patrol the area surrounding the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, 104 S. Michigan.
Bobins serves on the Pritzker museum and library’s board of directors.
“While we realize that the needs of many neighborhoods are pressing, the sad incidents that have occurred in close proximity to the Pritzker Military Museum and Library illustrate that one homicide anywhere is one too many and no neighborhood, including the Central Business District, has been immune,” Bobins wrote.
Roland Fryer emailed the mayor on his private account to say that he was “about to start writing up” an academic paper on police investigations.
“Disturbing fact of the year: How many lives were lost because of the investigations into Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald and Freddy Gray. Wait for it … 603 … and still counting because the homicide rate is not down to pre-investigation levels yet in some cities,” Fryer wrote.
“Is there anyone in CPD you could put me in touch with for some real take on what it’s like to be on the police side of those investigations? I read a bunch of stuff from the Justice Department on this and they make it seem like this is the best process ever invented. Looking for a more balanced view.”
Emanuel simply replied: “Yes.”