Mayor Rahm Emanuel has survived his first Chicago weather emergency. Give the man his due.
He reportedly was on vacation in Indonesia with his family until Monday, which drew the ire of critics who felt he should have been here in town directing every snowplow like mayors of old. But the plows rolled and the warming centers opened and the schools — if just in time — were closed. As for the 1,500 flight cancellations at O’Hare and Midway, has there ever been a big storm that did not paralyze the airports?
Emanuel, that is to say, did not do a Bilandic. He did not fall on his face during the big freeze of 2014 the way Mayor Michael Bilandic flopped during the blizzard of 1979. On the contrary, city services performed about as well as one might expect. We can’t see some would-be Jane Byrne scoring points against Emanuel on this one.
This did not discourage some bloggers. They bemoaned that every side street was not instantly cleared. “Sit back and watch the show,” one commentator on a cop blog wrote. “Did Tiny make it back from vacation? Maybe he should leave his bags packed because his minions are doing a s— job of handling snow removal on the streets at the airports.”
It did seem a little weird that the big boss was out of town. Chicagoans are used to mayors who put on a show when a storm hits, standing in the snow and issuing orders like a ward superintendent on steroids. But, truth is, that’s mostly political theater. Given today’s instant communications, a mayor who can’t run the show from out of town must be a pretty miserable manager.
Where Emanuel did lose ground was in the category of “real Chicagoan.” Here everybody was, digging out of parking spots, stomping frozen feet, checking the heat in Grandma’s apartment — real Chicago stuff going back forever — and there was the mayor, enjoying the summer in some faraway land, much more the wealthy CEO than a man of the people.
Emanuel knows appearances matter, which is why he hit the ground running on Monday. He dropped by a city road salt station on the West Side, visited the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, and wrapped up his day at a West Side warming center. His intentions were threefold — to make sure things got done right, to be seen making sure things got done right, and to look like a real Chicagoan, shivering like the rest of us.
He didn’t even look especially tanned.