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Rahm’s meeting skeds show juggling act in, out of City Hall

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in March | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In the three-week run-up to his stunning selection of a new police superintendent, Mayor Rahm Emanuel juggled Chicago’s pension, policing and school funding crises with a heavy dose of image building.

Mayoral schedules, released in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Chicago Sun-Times, show the daily balancing act that factors into how the mayor chooses to spend his time, whom he spends that time with and even the restaurants where he chooses to dine with “a friend,” as the records put it.

The daily itineraries also show that even as Emanuel was interviewing the now-discarded three finalists for top cop recommended by his hand-picked Police Board, the mayor held two meetings in his City Hall office with a group of high-ranking police officials that included his surprise pick: Chief of Patrol Eddie Johnson.

It’s not known whether those meetings built Emanuel’s confidence in the man he plucked out of obscurity to boost rock-bottom police morale and restore trust between residents and police shattered by the Laquan McDonald shooting video. But they certainly didn’t hurt.

On March 15 and again on March 21, Johnson was part of hourlong meetings with the mayor that included interim Supt. John Escalante and his chief of staff, Chiefs Tony Riccio and Gene Roy, and Deputy Chief Dave McNaughton, the records show.

Five days after the second meeting, the Sun-Times first reported Emanuel’s end-run around the Police Board to anoint Johnson to replace fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

In between, the mayor held six meetings labeled “public safety update” with chief of staff Eileen Mitchell and public safety liaison Janey Rountree, who were keeping close tabs on the superintendent search. Only one of those meetings — on March 16 — included Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.

The following day, the Sun-Times disclosed the now-discarded list of three finalists. The schedules show that Emanuel started a series of 90-minute “interviews,” presumably with the three Police Board finalists, on Saturday, March 19.

Two more 90-minute interviews were held on Sunday, March 20, followed by a 45-minute interview the following Wednesday, March 23.

Between March 1 and 23, Escalante was summoned to the mayor’s office three times.

Johnson can expect to be put on an even shorter leash as he struggles to control the outbreak of gang violence that has caused homicides and shootings to skyrocket while police activity has plummeted.

During the same three-week period, Emanuel had just two meetings with Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson and a host of top aides that included Arnie Rivera, senior adviser Mike Rendina, Clo Ewing, Meghan Harte, chief of policy Michael Negron, and Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown.

That’s even though CPS is running out of money with a $676 million pension payment due on June 30 and no help from Springfield in sight.

Thousands of teachers massed in front of the Thompson Center on Friday for a one-day walkout. A mid-May strike is increasingly likely. And the on-time opening of schools this fall is a giant question mark.

Chicago taxpayers have already paid $760,725 in legal fees tied to the federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the police shooting of McDonald.

The running tab does not include fees paid to former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to conduct a third-party review of a Law Department that Emanuel initially claimed could not possibly be part of the “code of silence” the mayor has acknowledged exists in the Chicago Police Department.

On March 4, Emanuel met privately with Webb to get a “status update” on that Law Department investigation, information that has yet to be made public.

The police superintendent search wasn’t the only job on Emanuel’s plate.

On March 4, the schedules show two rounds of “interviews,” presumably for the vacancy created by the surprise resignation of Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh. Those meetings included Choose Chicago Board Chair Desiree Rogers, Deputy Mayor Steve Koch and now-departed senior mayoral adviser David Spielfogel.

The second interview was followed by a meeting titled “legal update-parks,” that undoubtedly centered on the court fight being waged by Friends of the Parks in an effort to block Emanuel’s plan to give movie mogul George Lucas 17 acres of lakefront land near Soldier Field to build a $400 million museum.

Spielfogel stuck around for both.

At 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 10, Emanuel held a private meeting at Ariel Investments, 200 E. Randolph. The schedule doesn’t show the purpose. But it just might have been one of the private meetings the mayor has held with Lucas and his wife, Ariel executive Mellody Hobson, in an apparently failed attempt to persuade the couple to consider an alternative site.

Another meeting labeled “museum update” was held in the mayor’s City Hall office on March  17. In addition to Spielfogel, Negron and Rendina, participants included McPier CEO Lori Healey, Corporation Counsel Steve Patton and Chief Operating Officer Joe Deal.

The schedules also show that Emanuel got two “pension updates,” one of them two days before the Illinois Supreme Court overturned his plan to save two of four city employee pension funds.

The second meeting included former Intergovernmental Affairs Director Matt Hynes and his boss, and Grosvenor Capital Chairman Michael Sacks, Emanuel’s most influential business adviser and vice chair of World Business Chicago. Sacks is an investor in the company that owns the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lunches, dinners and drinks “with a friend” were held at an array of restaurants that included Cochon Volant, Chicago Cut, Vivo, Coco Pazzo, Picolo Sogno Due, Beatrix, Swift and Sons, The Gage, Cherry Circle at the Chicago Athletic Club, the Standard Club, and at the Allium Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel.

In an apparent attempt to rehabilitate Emanuel’s public image, the three-week schedule is sprinkled with loads of media interviews and meetings with unidentified reporters labeled “OTR” or off the record.

Emanuel has made a habit of holding those background sessions with the media since his days in the Clinton and Obama White Houses and in Congress in between. It’s his way of explaining the strategy behind his most controversial decisions, he hopes, to pave the way for more favorable coverage.

Despite the daily juggling act, Emanuel also squeezed in private meetings over the three-week period with Ald. Edward Burke (14th), Marge Laurino (39th), Pat O’Connor (40th) and Debra Silverstein (50th), former Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd), state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Avant CEO Al Goldstein, James Ellis of Laborers Local 1001, a delegation from Icelandair, and Jean Francois Decaux, CEO of JCDecaux Group.

JCDecaux is the company that holds lucrative city contracts for advertising on bus shelters, electronic billboards along Chicago expressways and for digital advertising at O’Hare and Midway airports.

There was also two days of “filming” in the mayor’s press briefing room. The purpose was not known.