Our Pledge To You

News

Rahm Emanuel continues to pile up frequent-flier miles — costing taxpayers $46K

Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel made nearly two dozen out-of-town trips last year at a cost of roughly $46,000 to Chicago taxpayers, records show.

Records released by City Hall in response to a Freedom of Information request – on a day when the mayor was at the University of Michigan – show Emanuel is continuing to pile up frequent-flier miles, even though he is at war with President Donald Trump and has a whole lot less to show for his shuttles between Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The most popular destination was the nation’s capital, where Emanuel traveled seven times, always staying at the posh Park Hyatt Hotel. Other popular destinations included New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Champaign and Springfield.

When the mayor leaves Chicago to recruit companies or graduating college seniors and make speeches that burnish his national image, he frequently combines city business with campaign fundraising.

In some cases, the invoices list air travel or hotel expenses, but don’t show the city paying for it. Those expenses were either picked up by Emanuel’s campaign fund or involve air travel covered by “private transportation” and listed on Emanuel’s ethics statement.

The mayor’s campaign disclosure reports for 2017 also show thousands of dollars in travel expenses. Some of the dates coincide with trips listed in the city records.

On one of his two trips to San Francisco, Emanuel stayed at the W Hotel at a cost of $919 a night.

Mayoral spokesperson Shannon Breymaier maintained that the San Francisco trip “has already benefited the city, as he successfully recruited health tech company Collective Health to open a new, second office in Chicago.”

“Mayor Emanuel is a tireless advocate for Chicago and its residents, and these trips enable him to meet with government officials, university students, business leaders and CEOs as part of his efforts to bring every available investment, job and resource back to the City of Chicago,” she wrote in an email to Sun-Times.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), one of Emanuel’s most outspoken City Council critics, acknowledged that some mayoral travel is necessary. But he argued that there is “a lot more of this going on than there needs to be.”

“He tends to take trips when he knows something bad is coming down . . . He has a knack for disappearing whenever there is a very serious issue, like the school closings,” Waguespack said.

“A lot of it is him being out there trying to burnish his image. But he’s not addressing the serious issues that we have here when he’s out there talking. He’s going into places and talking up the good side of things. But he’s ignoring the serious issues that he leaves town for.”

Waguespack argued that above all, Chicagoans want a mayor who stays home and focuses like a laser on local issues. He noted that, for much of 2017, the Chicago Public Schools were literally on the brink of bankruptcy.

“People want the crises managed and dealt with — not turned into opportunities to go hang out on TV shows,” Waguespack said.

“If it were the U.S. Conference of Mayors . . . where you’re talking with other mayors about best practices, no problem. But a lot of it just seems to be burnishing his image amid what he knows is a crisis at home on many different levels.”

Emanuel spent much of last year rebuilding a national image that took a beating because of his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

By engaging in a war of words with President Donald Trump and filing a pre-emptive lawsuit seeking to block Attorney General Jeff Sessions from cutting off federal crime-fighting funds to sanctuary cities, Emanuel curried favor with Chicago Hispanics, whose support he needs to get re-elected.

He turned himself from the national pariah that he was during the 2016 presidential campaign to the valued political strategist and fundraiser extraordinaire that he was before the police shooting of McDonald.

Mayoral travel has long been a source of controversy.

In 2004, the Sun-Times reported that then-Mayor Richard M. Daley had taken 67 out-of-town trips over a three-year period, nearly half of them entirely or partly funded by Chicago taxpayers.

Ten years later, Emanuel reimbursed the city for more than $14,000 in travel expenses that mixed city business and campaign fundraising. He also imposed a new travel policy aimed at ensuring that taxpayers don’t get stuck with the tab for quasi-political trips.

Last year, the Sun-Times reported that Emanuel took ten out of town trips in as many weeks following Trump’s election in a return to his long-cultivated role as a national political operative.