News of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek re-election traveled swiftly Tuesday throughout the city and the political world.
Political allies were quick with praise for the mayor, while his critics celebrated his impending departure.
Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton each said Emanuel improved the city and the lives of its residents. Emanuel was Obama’s first White House chief of staff, and he also worked in the Clinton White House.
“Rahm Emanuel has been a tireless and brilliant public servant,” Obama said in a statement, praising his work to improve city schools and boost job growth in the city. “Chicago is better and stronger for his leadership, and I was a better President for his wise counsel at a particularly perilous time for our country. I’ve been blessed to call Rahm my friend. Whatever he chooses to do next, I know he’ll continue to make a positive difference, just as he has throughout his career in public service. And Michelle and I wish Rahm and Amy all the best as they consider this next phase in their lives.”
Obama was in Chicago last week and spent time with Emanuel.
Clinton said Emanuel “served with vision, purpose, principle, and impact.”
“I believe he succeeded because he cares about people, policy, and politics,” Clinton said in a statement. “Even people who disagree with him strongly on some issues understand that. Rahm keeps score the right way: by the number of lives changed for the better — the number of children getting pre-kindergarten; the number of young people going to community college tuition-free; and the number of new jobs and new businesses. He is proof that if you focus on the trend lines, not just the headlines, a public leader can make a lasting positive difference.”
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was surprised about Emanuel’s decision.
“I want to thank him for leading our city for the past eight years and also for his service to the nation — his time in Congress and as Chief of Staff to President Obama,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “Being mayor of the nation’s third-largest city is extraordinarily difficult and all-consuming. I wish him and Amy well in their future endeavors.”
But others who have been critical of the mayor’s performance, especially his handling of school and police issues, said it was time for the city to move on from Emanuel. The mayor, they said, did not pay enough attention to the city’s less affluent neighborhoods and the problems those residents face in their everyday lives.
“It was Karen’s leadership, fearlessness, and love for our city and for the schools in Chicago in particular and for the city of Chicago, that made this possible,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters.
Union leaders built Emanuel’s controversial tenure as the de facto policymaker for city schools into the core of its own policy proposals, labor contract demands and messages to rank-and-file teachers. Now, amid the union’s internal divisions over its future, officials claimed victory.
“This union, the CTU, followed Karen Lewis into battle, and today we’ve won,” Sharkey said. “Make no mistake, the members of this union won. We knocked out Mayor One Percent.”
The news also came as a shock to community activist Jawanza Malone, who has openly criticized Emanuel for the closing of public schools and for not devoting enough attention to the rising costs of housing.
“Obviously he has his reasons. It’s disappointing that he wouldn’t rise to the occasion and address the challenges that this city faces,” Malone said. “There is a lack of investment on the South and West sides of the city. Hopefully we will be able to elect a leader that will give attention to parts of the city he didn’t seem to care about. … What had become obvious to people in the city and across the country — when you think of the number of protests — he lacks the ability to be able to help this city. I won’t say that I’m glad that he’s not running. He didn’t make sure that people in communities that aren’t affluent got the services and resources they needed.”
The Rev. Gregory Livingston, the organizer of two recent anti-violence demonstrations that were also critical of Emanuel and called for the mayor to resign, was in good spirits in the aftermath of Emanuel’s announcement.
“We won,” said Livingston, who was arrested Monday as he attempted to march onto the Kennedy Expressway.
In the Woodlawn neighborhood, Sylvia Logan’s mouth fell open when she learned the news. But the 81-year-old said the decision makes sense.
“Do you know why he’s not going to run? He won’t win,” Logan said as she ate lunch in Hyde Park. “He hasn’t done enough for the city and people don’t like him. They don’t like his attitude, they don’t like how he does things.”
She said the Laquan McDonald video dismantled any work the mayor has done.
“He knew a police officer shot a child and he would not expose the tape to the public,” Logan said. “That’s not right. I see things I don’t like about him. My children and grandchildren have to suffer the consequences. We need a new mayor. President Barack Obama recommended Emanuel to us, and it was a bad choice.”
Reaction began to ripple out on social media as well. Charlene Carruthers, an activist with the Black Youth 100 Project, posted a series of celebratory messages on Twitter.
“I just did a praise dance before yoga class!!!!! Rahm Emanuel is NOT running for a third term,” Carruthers wrote. “ … He didn’t want that smoke from the Van Dyke trail. (sic) The full dragging and organizing to get him out is/was ready to go! … Note to all other candidates in the running to become chicago’s Next mayor: it will not be easier for you, we still have an agenda that is pro-community/public schools/quality jobs and anti-divestment/policing/corruption. #ByeRahm”
Other Democratic politicians quickly weighed in, thanking the mayor for his service.
“Mayor Emanuel offered steady leadership through difficult times,” Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said in a statement. “His efforts to balance the budget, stabilize pensions, and make tough decisions consistently reflected his commitment to do what was best for the future of our city, not what was easy. As Chicago continues to move forward and grow as an international city, we will remain grateful for Mayor Emanuel’s leadership.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin applauded Emanuel’s public service in Congress, the White House and at City Hall.
“I have worked closely with him at every level of his public career,” Durbin said in a statement. “I always knew a call from Rahm was an invitation to join him in a bold, ambitious effort to make life better for those he served. It has been my honor to join him in these great ventures. Rahm has left his mark and I wish him and Amy the best in the days ahead.”
Clinton said Chicagoans were wise to pick Emanuel as mayor.
“Now they must choose wisely again,” Clinton’s statement read. “Someone to continue addressing the challenges, maintain the strengths, and bridge the divides.”
Chicago Tribune’s Juan Perez Jr. contributed.
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September 4, 2018 at 02:18PM