When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped out onto the stage Wednesday at Ryan Auditorium, I had no idea what to expect. Would the smaller-than-expected, but clearly confident, mayor spend his time praising President Barack Obama? Would he butter us up with political jazz as a means of prepping for higher office someday? Would he do his best impression of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” bit? I had no idea, but I was excited.
As it turned out, the speech was relatively pedestrian: a few disappointments, a few bold statements, all adding up to a pleasant and interesting, though far from groundbreaking, event.
It goes without saying that he spoke quite a bit about Obama and his successes, primarily in regards to the auto bailout. He also weighed in on the election, shifting demographics and why Obama won a second term. His discussion on national issues and politics was largely unmemorable with the exception of one statement: “In the next six years, we will be energy independent. This is the single greatest thing that can happen (in American policy).” I was torn by this part of the discussion and Emanuel analysis of the consequences of such independence.
Emanuel stated that such an energy policy would change how we conduct our foreign affairs, how we negotiate with other countries and where our international trade balance lies, all of which are very important and real consequences of energy independence. However, he also said it will lead to lower gas prices and revive manufacturing — here I have a problem. Any economist will tell you that gas in an energy independent U.S. is only marginally cheaper than in an energy dependent nation. Mayor Emanuel’s stating otherwise suggests he is either oblivious to this fact (which I highly doubt), or that he is pushing some sort of political agenda. Either way, this didn’t quite sit well with me.
The mayor’s main focus of the night was education, which was quite fitting given where he was speaking. And yet, that part left me strangely unsatisfied. Emanuel focused almost entirely on higher education — universities such as our own, Big Ten alumni who live in Chicago, and the transformation of community colleges to vocational schools. Having a college-educated population that can contribute to Chicago’s future by involvement in various services and filling job vacancies is important, but it’s not what I wanted to hear.
As most of you remember, the Chicago Teachers Union called for a strike at the beginning of the school year. The teachers all decided to spend a portion of their $70,000 average annual salary on matching shirts and picket signs to protest various school reforms, essentially telling Rahm something that he’s used to saying instead of hearing. And yet, his only reference to the event was a statement that he “worked hard to ensure the kids have a full school day and a full school year.” No rebuttal to critiques that he wasn’t harsh enough and no discussion on how he would like to continue reform going forward or how he would address the colossal deficit that the CPS pension plan, as well as numerous other municipality pensions, keep running.
But while I disagreed with some of Emanuel’s policy statements, my biggest takeaway wasn’t his discussion (or lack thereof) of any of his successes (or lack thereof) from his time as mayor or in the White House. Rather, I walked away with a satisfying comfort in Rahm Emanuel as the mayor of Chicago. From the story of his family’s migration to Illinois, to his claim that Chicago is “the most American city in America,” to his continuing drive to keep developing Chicago into a leading international city, Emanuel simply exudes love for Chicago, to the point where his wife is probably jealous.
While I may have questions about his policy and points of disagreement, it’s hard to imagine he has anything but the city’s best interests at heart, which I find to be the most important quality in a mayor. I left Tech today with the shocking disappointment that the strongest language Rahm used was “hogwash,” but with an even stronger sense of comfort in the fact that Chicago, and its neighbors to the north at NU, are in caring hands with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.