If even a fraction of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speeches had been as passionate as his final budget address, he might still be in the running for a third-term instead of finishing his second as a lame-duck.
Although Wednesday’s speech was filled with legacy-building and self-congratulation, it also was filled with passion.
For a tough-as-nails political tactician better known for his steely resolve, foul language and “putting points on the board” philosophy than for wearing his heart on his sleeve, it was a virtual gusher.
The freedom and finality of a mayoralty winding down has a way of doing that to politicians — and Rahm Emanuel, apparently, is no exception.
It started when the mayor recognized his wife, Amy Rule, seated in the first row of the City Council gallery.
“Every day while raising three incredible children of our own, Amy has worked to ensure that young women in Chicago also have the love, support and guidance that will help them on a path to a better and brighter future,” the mayor said, his voice choking with emotion.
“Now, I will be the first to say — and Amy is a close second — that I have not always been a perfect mayor. But Amy has approached the role of first lady with a grace, a dignity and a consummate compassion. And I want to thank her for her selfless service on behalf of the children of Chicago.”
With that, aldermen gave Rule a standing ovation. The honor was repeated for Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson after Emanuel recognized the hard work of his two most important appointees.
Emanuel also showed emotion when talking about the youth mentoring and ex-offender programs he has bolstered and recognized two of the beneficiaries seated in the audience: Christophe Collens and Rajay Montgomery.
It was a move resembling what U.S. presidents have been doing in their State of the Union messages ever since Ronald Reagan.
The mayor even closed on an emotional note after admonishing his successor — whoever it is — not to make “phony promises instead of tough choices.”
“It has been the honor of my career to work alongside each of you. And I will forever be profoundly grateful for the privilege of a lifetime to serve the citizens of Chicago and help them build the lasting future the greatest city on earth deserves,” Emanuel said.
With that, the outgoing mayor got a standing ovation of his own.
After Emanuel left the chamber, aldermen couldn’t help but notice the show of passion that Chicagoans have seldom seen.
“He’s always been very passionate about this city. He’s always cared about. But it always didn’t come across because of the pressure that comes with the job,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
“A lot of things happen when you have the pressure lifted. You could see he was a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed and a lot more personable because you don’t have the weight of the city and the world on you.”
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) agreed that, without the burden of another election around the bend, “You can let your hair down and be free and just let it out and not care or play the odds as to what somebody would say to you or how they feel because, who gives a damn?”
Civic Federation President Laurence Msall was less preoccupied about the mayor’s passion quotient and more concerned about his failure to confront the $1 billion spike in pension payments that will slap the next mayor and City Council in the face.
Emanuel’s final budget ignores that problem — and includes $113 million in “new investments” — when he could have cut spending or raised taxes to prepare for that looming burden, Msall said.
“We need a long-term plan. … It’s not just the mayor. It’s every member of the City Council who has an obligation to articulate what we’re gonna do going forward,” Msall said.
“There needs to be a plan for how we address the pension crisis, which continues to mount. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of will right now in this City Council to raise revenues. So you have to look at cutting expenses and consolidating. This makes very modest consolidations of some positions.”