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Emanuel needs to be 'less arrogant, more collaborative': Austin

Ald. Carrie Austin in 2013 | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times Media

Mayor Rahm Emanuel needs to be “less arrogant and more collaborative,” but he’s still a far better alternative than his two strongest challengers, the City Council’s most powerful African-American alderman said Tuesday.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle “gave me pause” during the months-long period when Preckwinkle was pointedly refusing to rule out a race for mayor.

But once Preckwinkle announced in July that she was not running for mayor, Austin said she had no qualms about supporting Emanuel.

“I believe he’s been good for the city. I really, really do — arrogance and all,” Austin said Tuesday.

“He’ll tweak some of that after his re-election. I’m sure that he will. I want to be here to help him do that…You have to be a little bit more collaborative. You need to widen your advisory circle. Before you storm off and do things, make sure it’s things—I don’t want to say that race of people, but that unit of people want done. Just like [renaming Stony Island Ave.] for Bishop Brazier. I had an uproar and I never expected that. If nothing else, it should have been put before the church.”

Austin then took aim at Emanuel’s strongest challenger: County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

She argued that Garcia is a virtual unknown to most African-American voters, even though he was a close ally of the late Mayor Harold Washington whose election as alderman helped end Council Wars and give Washington control over the City Council.

“Does that say just say that we’re going to support him because he’s linked to Harold Washington? That’s horrible to do that,” Austin said.

“How long has Harold been deceased? So everything has to be on that record from way back when? Lemuel [Austin, her husband] has been deceased 20 years. Harold passed before Lemuel. So, do we just drag that on forever? Who’s to say that [Garcia] hasn’t changed in all of that time? It’s not enough for me to say that you are `linked to Harold Washington’ like so many people say they were linked to Martin Luther King.”

Austin then targeted Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), another mayoral challenger.

“What has he done in order for me to say, `I’m going to support Fioretti?’ Absolutely nothing, except your arrogance got us sued. That was your arrogance that did that. If you want to talk about arrogance, what about his arrogance?” Austin said, referring to Fioretti’s costly sign battle with a hot dog stand with the controversial name Felony Franks.

Emanuel has alienated African-American voters who helped put him in office by instigating Chicago’s first teachers strike in 25 years, closing 50 public schools, opening new charter schools and unveiling plans to build new schools and school additions, with the educational largesse heavily concentrated on the North Side.

That includes a $17 million addition to Walter Payton College Prep and a new, $60 million selective enrollment high school nearby initially named after President Barack Obama, whose 2011 endorsement of his former White House chief of staff sealed the deal with black voters.

Emanuel subsequently dropped the Obama name from the school saying he “made a mistake” in his “rush to honor” his former boss. Black elected officials had taken offense to the name, citing Obama’s roots on the South Side, where First Lady Michelle Obama was born and raised.

The same kind of negative groundswell forced Emanuel to drop like a hot potato his plan to rename Stony Island Avenue for the late Bishop Arthur Brazier.

On Tuesday, Austin noted that she “wrassled” with Emanuel behind the scenes to reduce the number of school closings in her Far South Side ward from six to three. But even she acknowledged that 50 school closings, most of them located on the predominantly black South and West Sides was too much, too soon.

“They could have still closed the 50 schools. But it could have been done gradually. Not all at once. It was too much to swallow at one time,” she said.