Analysis: Can Rahm Emanuel survive?
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Two months ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel let it be known he had every intention of seeking a third term and scheduled a giant fundraiser to replenish his depleted campaign war chest and prove he wasn’t a lame duck.
The unrelenting furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting video has interrupted that well-orchestrated City Hall narrative.
Now, the question is, can Emanuel survive his second term and, even if he does, how does he regain the credibility — particularly with African-American voters who elected and re-elected him — that he needs to function as Chicago’s chief executive.
“You earn it every day. Of course it’s a long road. I’m going to work at it every day,” said Emanuel, who managed to win back black voters, even after closing a record-number 50 public schools.
“My actions will be a piece of that. My words and the follow-through on my words to make sure those actions are essential. And I have a lot of work to do. The primary work is to make sure that, when it relates to public safety, there is trust between the community and our police department.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, said it’s “always darkest before the dawn.” The light will come if and when Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who emptied 16 rounds into black teenager’s body, is convicted of first-degree murder, O’Connor said.
“People will hear the evidence. They’ll understand the timing better and understand the city doesn’t indict people. We just pay the parents settlements because we felt here was a problem. Once they realize the city did what it was supposed to do, it won’t be as bad,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said he is somewhat puzzled by the outrage directed at the mayor.
“They’re mad at him, but I’m not exactly sure I know why they’re mad at him. They were mad at [now-former Police Superintendent Garry] McCarthy. He fired McCarthy. Now, they’re mad he fired McCarthy,” O’Connor said.
“This is something that takes time. There’s no quick-fix for something like this.”
So far, demonstrations triggered by public outrage over the Laquan McDonald video have been relatively peaceful. Demands for Emanuel’s resignation have come, only from the far-left fringes of Chicago politics.
But if a smoking gun emerges that shows Emanuel participated in a cover-up of any kind or deliberately conspired to keep the McDonald shooting video under wraps until after he had survived Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff, all bets are off.
“There was no conspiracy. Allegations along those lines are not supported by the evidence,” said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
Burke noted that state law includes no recall statute for Chicago mayors and there is “no mechanism” to remove a mayor in whom the voters have lost confidence. He refused to speculate on whether Emanuel would be in danger of a recall if such a law was in place.
“The last time I checked, he was elected to be the mayor of Chicago until 2019. Isn’t that correct?” Burke said.
“I’m sure there’s a political agenda [to demands for his resignation]. What it is, I don’t know. But, he will continue to be the mayor of the city of Chicago.”
O’Connor warned those hoping for an Emanuel resignation not to hold their breath. It’s simply not in the DNA of the fiercely competitive former White House chief-of-staff who doesn’t like to lose, even at tiddly-winks.
As the middle child in a family of over-achievers with two notoriously demanding parents, failure, quitting, losing and even admitting mistakes were simply not tolerated.
“Expecting leaders to resign in a crisis is unlikely. I don’t think it’s going to happen. It shouldn’t happen. Why should it? If he withheld evidence until after the election, that could be something people say. But, if he takes the information we have and the tape we have and gives it to law enforcement at the time the shooting takes place, what has he covered up?” O’Connor said.
“The mayor just won an election. It was a tough election. Not everybody in this city supported him. But just like he won that election, not everybody is asking him to resign or saying, `I don’t like what you’re doing.’ We’re working on a very different Chicago landscape. Everybody needs to step back, calm down and see where we land. You can’t continue to run government in a crisis. You have to try and get the crisis to subside. People will gravitate to responsible leadership. That’s how you regain trust.”
The political waters are certain to get even choppier for the embattled mayor.
More damaging videos of police shootings will be released, starting with the Ronald Johnson shooting video that Emanuel now promises to make public next week. That could trigger demands for more multimillion-dollar settlements Chicago taxpayers can ill afford and more costly economic boycotts like the Black Friday protest that virtually shut down Michigan Avenue.
The U.S. Justice Department is almost certain to open a civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department that Emanuel branded “misguided” before reversing field and saying he “welcomes” it. That could ultimately lead to judicial oversight and the appointment of a federal monitor similar to the one that rode heard over city hiring for nearly a decade after top aides to former Mayor Richard M. Daley were convicted of rigging city hiring.
Chicago Public School teachers will take a strike vote this week. Smelling blood in the water, they’re almost certain to blow past the 75 percent strike threshold and top the 90 percent vote that preceded the 2012 strike that was Chicago’s first in 25 years.
If CPS doesn’t get $480 million in pension help from Springfield already built into its budget, an estimated 5,000 teachers will have to be laid off on Feb. 8. That would almost certainly trigger even more demonstrations.
Chicago aldermen emboldened by a once-powerful but now wounded mayor are likely to question virtually everything Emanuel does for the next 3 1/2 years, in part, to save their own political necks.
Like Emanuel, they were harshly criticized for signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald one week after the April 7 runoff — even before a lawsuit had been filed — without asking tough enough questions and seeing the incendiary video.
That means the embattled mayor who managed to persuade 35 aldermen to support a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions and school construction will have a tough time getting 26 votes for the tax increases that lie ahead if, as expected, the Illinois Supreme Court overturns Emanuel’s plan to save two other city employee pension funds.
Even before any Round 2 tax hikes, Chicago taxpayers are likely to raise the roof when property tax bills hit their mailboxes next spring and summer reflecting the double whammy of Emanuel’s record tax hike and increases triggered by property reassessments.
The selection of a new Chicago Police superintendent to replace McCarthy is a built-in loser for Emanuel.
If he chooses an African-American, as he must to build bridges burned by the McDonald video, Hispanic voters who back interim Supt. John Escalante will be angry.
If he chooses Escalante, another Hispanic or another white superintendent, blacks will be furious. If he selects another outsider on the heels of Jody Weis and McCarthy, the Fraternal Order of Police will have its nose out of joint.
Emanuel’s Task Force on Police Accountability is also under the gun to deliver meaningful reforms to the protracted process of disciplining wayward officers and creating an early-warning system for officers whose actions trigger multiple citizen complaints. But the FOP is promising a fight that will make real results African-Americans demand difficult to deliver.
“We have put language in our contract to speed up the disciplinary process. Time frames in there that have never been in there before. But I will not apologize or back off any protections we have for our membership. I will not go backward with the language of our agreement to satisfy the loudest voices right now,” FOP President Dean Angelo said.
The chorus of political enemies Emanuel made across the nation will only get louder. They’ve been waiting for their chance to get even for the bare-knuckles, take-no-prisoners style Emanuel used during his days as an adviser to one U.S. President, chief of staff to another and as a U.S. Congressman in between who helped to engineer the 2006 Democratic takeover of the U.S. House.
O’Connor acknowledged the obvious. The days of lopsided City Council votes are probably over.
“What people will do is take a tragic incident and try to turn it into a political agenda or a game. We can’t control political agendas or what community leaders do. That’s when you find out who your friends are. That’s all I can tell you,” he said.
Already, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) is demanding that aldermen see police shooting videos before authorizing multimillion-dollar settlements that, sadly, have become routine.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, is also demanding that Emanuel “release all currently held videos of controversial police shootings” to the families of police shooting victims, so the relatives can decide whether or not to release those videos to the public.
“That should be their decision — not the city’s,” he said.
The Black Caucus also plans to join forces with City Treasurer Kurt Summers, who is widely viewed as a potential candidate for mayor in 2019, in holding town hall meetings throughout the black community “to begin a conversation about what we expect from our police force.”
“We urge Mayor Emanuel to hire a new police superintendent who will balance the needs of keeping our streets safe while treating our communities with respect. We need a superintendent who is open to new ideas about policing—not the old policies that have created distrust for generations,” Sawyer said.
Even before the mayor spent $24 million to survive the runoff, there was speculation that, if Hillary Clinton got elected president, Emanuel might leave Chicago in midterm to accept a cabinet post.
Now that the mayor’s seat is more like a griddle, those rumors are popping up again. That’s even though, in his current politically radioactive state, Emanuel would have difficulty winning U.S. Senate confirmation.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley managed to survive the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals by throwing everybody around him under the bus. Even during his darkest days, after being questioned by federal investigators in the mayor’s office, nobody demanded Daley’s resignation.
Fiercely loyal, Emanuel served up only one head—McCarthy’s—and it only raised the volume on demands for his own political scalp.
At the end of a week that was arguably his most difficult as Chicago mayor, Emanuel was asked whether he foresees any circumstance under which he would not serve out his term.
“No,” the mayor said, before walking away from a hallway interview that was more like a feeding frenzy.