Emanuel’s chief of staff leaving, triggering second-term cabinet shuffle

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The post-election shuffle of Rahm Emanuel’s cabinet began Monday with a change at the top — in the hot seat filled by the mayor’s chief of staff.

After 25 months as chief of staff and 14 years at City Hall under Emanuel and his predecessor, Richard M. Daley, Lisa Schrader is leaving the pressure cooker to pursue, as yet, unidentified opportunities in the private sector.

Sources said the decision to get off the City Hall merry-go-round was Schrader’s. She did not jump to avoid being pushed. Her departure is expected to trigger a much broader shuffle as Emanuel realigns his cabinet to confront the formidable challenges he faces in a second term, led by the $30 billion pension crisis at the city and public schools.

Speculation on Schrader’s replacement has centered on CTA President Forrest Claypool, who holds the distinction of having served — not one, but two stints as Daley’s chief of staff. Claypool could not be reached for comment.

If he turns out to be Schrader’s successor, Emanuel will be forced to find an appropriate replacement for Claypool at a time when the CTA has massive capital projects underway, including “The New Blue,” and is trying to stave off devastating state budget cuts that could trigger massive service cuts and fare hikes.

“When I was first elected mayor, I asked Lisa to stay. Later, I asked her to step up and serve as my chief of staff and, time and again, she delivered for me,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a statement.

“She has played an invaluable role as a trusted adviser while managing government every day and driving my team forward to accomplish our goals. After 14 years of city service, I understand Lisa’s desire to look for private-sector opportunities. And while I am sorry to see her move on, I reminded her that I still have her cellphone number. Lisa has my full support and best wishes, and she will always be part of my extended family.”

Schrader refused to comment on the upcoming changing of the guard. Instead, she released a statement that talked about what an “honor” it was to serve Emanuel and the people of Chicago.

“I am proud to have supported the mayor in his efforts to secure a better future for the city that we all love. And I am proud to have worked for the incredibly talented team he assembled and upon whom I relied every day,” Schrader was quoted as saying.

“After devoting 14 years of service to the city, I am eager to begin a new chapter but will always be ready to help the mayor and the city of Chicago in any way that I can.”

As chief of staff, Schrader occupied City Hall’s hottest seat during a tumultuous period.

She took over just as Emanuel made the decision to close a record 50 public schools, then had to design and execute the mayor’s plan to protect affected students on the longer walk to their new schools, often times across the dividing lines between neighborhoods and rival gangs.

Schrader was also forced to preside over the internal investigation that followed the indictment and subsequent conviction of City Comptroller Amer Ahmad for a kickback and money laundering scheme that occurred while Ahmad was serving as Ohio’s deputy state treasurer.

Chicago taxpayers spent $825,000 to find out that Ahmad did not cost them a penny beyond his $165,000-a-year salary. The $825,000 was paid to the law firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and the accounting firm of Grant Thornton for a 47-page report that concluded that Ahmad did not defraud cash-strapped Chicago as he did in Ohio.

In between, Schrader had to juggle the usual summer crime spikes and a red-light camera scandal and subsequent controversy that emerged as a major issue during the just-completed mayoral campaign. She also helped Emanuel hammer out contracts with all city unions, including police and fire, and three major pension deals while balancing city budgets without raising property, sales or gas taxes and continuing the phase-out of the city’s 55 percent subsidy for retiree health care.

Not bad for a low-level national Democratic operative from Ohio, who applied for a job at Daley’s City Hall knowing no one, and ended up on top while rising above the minor role she played in Hired Truck and the parking meter deal, two of Daley’s biggest headaches.

How did she manage that in a city that made famous the expression, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent”?

“It’s unusual for someone to start where she started and ended. But she didn’t rise through any kind of clout. She rose on talent,” John Schmidt, Daley’s first of a dozen chiefs of staff, told the Chicago Sun-Times after Emanuel chose Schrader to be his second chief of staff.

“She’s smart. She’s focused. She has judgment. She doesn’t panic. She’s a very good person. She has character. People have trust in her. If I were the mayor of Chicago, I would want Lisa as my chief of staff. It’s the smartest thing Rahm has done since he’s been mayor.”

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