Convinced that desperate times call for desperate measures, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday took a page from his predecessor’s extreme weather playbook.
He put on his sweater and work boots, summoned city department heads and agency chiefs to Chicago’s 911 emergency center and held the bureaucratic equivalent of a casting call for the movie “The Ten Commandments.”
With Emanuel standing behind them, arms folded, top mayoral aides took turns outlining the city’s response to the coldest temperatures Chicago has seen in a generation and an avalanche of snow vaguely reminiscent of the New Year’s Eve 1979 storm that buried Mayor Michael Bilandic.
For Emanuel, it must have been a jet-lagged shock to the system.
After vacationing with his wife and kids in Indonesia, where it was a balmy 75 degrees, the mayor had returned to Chicago on Monday morning and rushed right over to the 911 center to rally the troops.
That kind of exotic travel can only enhance Emanuel’s cartoon-like reputation among his harshest critics as “Mayor 1 Percent.” Which is apparently why Emanuel got a bit defensive when asked why he chose not to cut the Christmas trip short when Chicago’s weather forecast went south.
“The planning for an event like this started actually in August . . . We did table-top exercises. You don’t just develop a plan and execute a plan like we’ve had for weather situations like this just on the spot,” he said.
“I was away with my family on a holiday and I was in regular contact. Every one of the commissioners know I’ve been in contact with them on a regular basis and with my chief of staff multiple times on a daily basis. Communication equipment — be that text, telephone [or] email — allows you to stay in contact on a regular basis. My family would think that I wasn’t much on vacation given all of the communication I was” doing.
After being burned by the city’s inadequate response to the killer heat wave of 1995, former Mayor Richard M. Daley made a public show of warning Chicagoans whenever extreme weather hit Chicago.
Until Monday, Emanuel had been more like the anti-Daley.
When the snow started flying or temperatures plunged or soared, Emanuel turned up the heat on his department heads to get information out and make well-being checks on vulnerable elderly residents. But he stayed behind the scenes while they took center stage.
Monday was different and more Daley-like. It included the familiar self-congratulation while sloughing off questions about the millions of dollars in overtime the cash-strapped city was spending on the monumental effort.
“The way I look at it is, how many streets have been cleaned — not just about the dollars and cents,” the mayor said.
“I want to make sure the streets are clean, so people can get to and from work, they can get to the grocery to get what they need. If they’ve got to get to a shelter or get to some other type of service they’ve got to access, I want to make sure the streets are clean . . . I want to make sure the airport’s running, the mass transit system is running. I want to make sure the people at CHA are checked in on and our most vulnerable citizens . . . So, we will spend what we need to spend, [but] we’re not going to do it carelessly.”