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Emanuel on the week in Springfield: 'Much ado about nothing'

Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a news conference Friday to announce a Shakespeare program for the city | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday quoted from Shakespeare to sum up the political maneuvering in Springfield this week that brought Illinois no closer to resolving the marathon budget stalemate that has put Chicago’s $800 million wish list on hold.

“Much ado about nothing — with the emphasis on the word, `nothing,’ ” Emanuel said after appearing at the Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier to announce Shakespeare 400 Chicago, a year-long international arts festival to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

And what if Shakespeare was alive today to write a play about Springfield? What would it be, a comedy or a tragedy?

“It would be a tragic-comedy,” the mayor said.

A student of Shakespeare, the mayor was only getting started.

“Shakespeare did write, whether you look at Lear, King Richard, about power and the use of power. Not power, but authority, etc. And Shakespeare talked about the frailties of the human spirit. But also, not to confuse your position with who you are. That’s all I’ll say on that,” Emanuel said.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner reversed at least some of his most devastating budget cuts affecting child care subsidies for working parents and home care programs for the elderly and disabled to avoid an embarrassing and potentially devastating political defeat.

The following day, State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who claims he brokered the compromise, sided with Rauner on two key votes. One would have fully reversed the governor’s child care cuts. The other would have restored cuts to community care for the elderly and people with disabilities. The bills also would have curtailed Rauner’s powers to make such changes in the future.

Dunkin was once again branded a turncoat by his fellow Democrats and targeted for defeat by angry unions. But he claims to have gotten something in return for siding with the Republican governor: lifting the brick on lucrative tax credits for movies made in Illinois. Rauner also cut a deal with business and labor groups that would add new requirements before employees could tap into Illinois’ unemployment insurance system.

Although his old friend, Rauner, clearly blinked, Emanuel characterized all of that as “much ado about nothing” then weighed in on a host of other subjects by:

  • Arguing that the potentially incendiary video showing a Chicago Police officer firing 16 shots into the body of slain African-American teenager Laquan McDonald should be released “at the appropriate time,” but not right now. “You have, obviously a [federal] investigation. And you never release a video while that investigation is going on,” the mayor said. “There’s an appropriate way to handle when videos become public and that procedure will be followed.”Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, has acknowledged that the dashboard camera video of one Chicago Police officer unleashing the barrage of gunfire that killed McDonald, 17, on Oct. 20, 2014 as at least five other responding officers exercised restraint would “really inflame the passions of the community-at-large.” But Brookins has said that’s the price that must be paid if the Chicago Police Department is ever going to confront and move beyond the disparate treatment of African-American men by a “handful” of rogue officers that’s become a systemic problem for police across the nation. Last spring, the City Council authorized a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family, even before a lawsuit was filed. A civil rights attorney branded the settlement “hush money.”
  • Denying that it’s bad management to have one in three city workers paid more than $100,000 a year and allow 152 city workers to more than doubled their base pay in overtime. The Chicago Sun-Times also reported that the city spent $240.8 million on overtime last year and $256.1 million for other pay, such as retroactive raises, duty-availability pay, uniform allowances, holiday pay and career-ending compensatory time. “Those are overtime. A lot of it is in public safety. And your own [Sun-Times] editorial noted the management tool of not hiring a new employee with all of the other benefits and costs. Which, in fact, allows you to actually address the issue of both holding costs down and meeting the goals of public safety,” the mayor said.
  • Refusing to weigh on the controversy over what should happen now that the tumultuous, four-year term of Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan has ended. Some aldermen want to remove the handcuffs from the office before hiring a new inspector general. Others want to empower the city’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson to investigate aldermen. Emanuel would only say that the days of no oversight over the City Council have ended.
  • Striking a conciliatory tone in response to the Chicago Teachers Union’s claim that it got 97 percent support for another strike in a practice vote. “If we’re united, we are more likely to succeed. If we’re divided and pointing fingers at each other, it absolves Springfield of the responsibility they have to continue to invest in the educational gains . . . that are being made in Chicago,” he said.
  • Pointing to the Shakespeare 400 celebration expected to draw 1,000 local and international artists to Chicago and the Architecture Biennial as evidence that Chicago’s resilient convention and tourism industries can absorb County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s 1 percent hotel tax.
  • Saying he still hasn’t seen the trailer for Spike Lee’s movie, “Chi-Raq,” about Chicago’s never-ending war on gun violence. But he said, “There’s a lot to this city. What we just witnessed [on the Shakespeare 400 festival] is also part of the city. People from all cultural entities coming together throughout the city to make sure that we continue to be a culturally rich and strong city.” Emanuel noted that there is a “big debate” going on across the nation about gun violence in major cities. “If that discussion leads to ways to strengthen communities to confront violence and make them a place to — not only have a business but raise a family – I welcome that discussion,” he said.
  • Wearing jeans to work again on a Friday and complimenting TV cameramen for joining him in the casual look.