Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s choice to replace Susana Mendoza as city clerk was sworn in Wednesday after a pair of standing ovations and a promise by Anna Valencia that she would extend city services to all Chicagoans “now more than ever.”
Valencia didn’t mention President Donald Trump’s week-one crackdown on illegal immigrants or his renewed threat to cut off funding to Chicago and other sanctuary cities.
She didn’t need to say it. That threat was hanging over the emotional swearing-in ceremony for the Downstate daughter of a Mexican immigrant who was the first in her close-knit family to graduate from college.
It only intensified when Valencia choked back tears as she thanked her immigrant parents and supportive husband. She also advised young people to “find your passion, work hard” and not let anybody hold them back or tell them that they cannot achieve their dreams.
Emanuel has hailed his former political operative as a “rising star” and part of the new generation of political leadership he wants to cultivate.
After Wednesday’s unanimous vote, the mayor used the Yiddish word “nachas” to describe the pride that Valencia’s parents must have felt. He praised the woman who could turn out to be a major asset to the mayor if he decides to seek a third term for the “incredible smile and incredible energy” she has brought to every job she has ever held. That includes helping Emanuel get elected and re-elected.
Rules Committee Chairman Michelle Harris (8th) also picked up on the theme of Valencia’s physical appearance in a way that might have been insulting if the words had come from a man.
“Anna Valencia is a woman — and a pretty woman at that” whom all the men in the City Council love, Harris said. “Your husband has strong competition.”
At her confirmation hearing, Valencia vowed to expand the reach of a municipal identification program and prevent that sensitive information from being used against undocumented immigrants.
She also promised to embark on the familiar “listening tour” of Chicago’s 50 wards to solicit ideas and introduce herself to voters in preparation for a 2019 election that will be her first run for elective office.
Valencia is certain to get an earful about the municipal ID at a time when undocumented immigrants are living in fear of the mass deportations threatened that President Donald Trump had threatened during his campaign.
Emanuel has promised that Chicago “is and always be a sanctuary city” where undocumented people can access city services and live without fear of police harassment.
But immigrants remain concerned that personal information required to qualify for a municipal ID may somehow find itself in the hands of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Asked whether the city would share that information with the feds, Valencia said, “Oh, no. That’s why we’re working on a legal opinion.”
She added: “We’re working with the administration to find a … way to make sure that our data can be secure. … New York struggled with that. San Francisco had a little more success. We’re gonna do everything we can possibly do to make sure that we can have secure data.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has warned Valencia that the municipal ID initiative puts her on the political hot-seat.
“There’s gonna be a national spotlight on what Chicago does, especially as it relates to how we collect the information, what we do with it and how we protect our most vulnerable neighbors,” Pawar said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) urged Valencia to make the municipal ID a “useful tool and not just a card in a wallet.”
Emanuel wants Valencia to speed up the one-year timetable for implementing the municipal ID that will allow undocumented immigrants to access city services and expand the reach of that new ID.
Valencia is all for casting the broadest possible net.