Mayor Rahm Emanuel rarely gets put on the political hot seat in a public setting. It almost never happens when the heat is turned up by a fellow politician.
Both happened Tuesday and it made for some entertaining, albeit uncomfortable, political theater.
Emanuel was appearing before a legislative commission on sentencing reform to pitch his proposal to lighten up on small-time drug offenders.
State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), chairman of the legislative Black Caucus, was determined to use the mayor’s appearance to score political points.
Dunkin ripped Emanuel for failing to honor his campaign promise to hire 1,000 additional Chicago police officers and for using $103 million in police overtime in 2013 as a substitute for new hiring.
Noting that there are four or five police officers on every corner along Michigan Avenue, Dunkin asked, “Why can’t we do that in black and brown” neighborhoods?
With Police Supt.Garry McCarthy seated next to the mayor, Dunkin questioned the veracity of crime statistics that both the mayor and McCarthy have used to tout a 40-year low in homicides and a drop in other crimes.
“If you hired more officers, as you committed to when you first came to the city, you would see a different relationship in some of these communities as compared to if you burned out the same ones. I don’t think that’s responsible,” he said.
“With the level of carnage and murder and mayhem in black and brown communities — if that level of activity was occurring in Ravenswood where you live . . .how would you rate him doing his job? You know how I feel,” Dunkin told Emanuel.
His voice dripping with trademark sarcasm, Emanuel said, “Really? I couldn’t tell. [You’re a master of] subtlety.”
Turning serious, Emanuel said, “I think he’s doing a very good job,” adding, “I’M the mayor.”
Obviously seething, but maintaining his cool, Emanuel then argued that “impact zones” in 20 South and West Side communities are, indeed, modeled after the “saturation patrols” that quelled mob attacks on Michigan Ave.
McCarthy argued that overtime is more cost-effective than hiring a “fully loaded” police officer with costly health and pension benefits.
Dunkin is a Springfield ally of the Chicago Teachers Union who has accepted $16,000 in campaign contributions from the CTU.
His questioning of the mayor was described by one lawmaker as “cathartic.” State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) wrote it off to Dunkin having “an ax to grind” with McCarthy, without saying why.
After the exchange, Dunkin escalated his attack on Emanuel and his handpicked superintendent.
“If that was a woman, she’d be arrested, let alone fired as superintendent. Yet, they work as a tag team and they doctor up these numbers that speak completely opposite to what’s going on in the community and we’re supposed to buy that,” Dunkin said.“It’s borderline offensive to come in front of us and give us political platitudes and numbers that you’ve doctored up. Our time is too valuable.”
As he hustled out of Tuesday’s hearing, Emanuel was asked to respond to Dunkin’s attack.
He wouldsay only, “I’m glad the committee is doing their job. I’m glad that the chairman [State Rep. Mike Zalewski] is asking these questions.”