Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's test of a year

May 18, 2012

On May 16, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated his first year in office. He marked the occasion by discussing his accomplishments over the past year, and of course, this weekend's big event. "I want the world to come to Chicago and Chicago to the world," he told Eight Forty-Eight's Tony Sarabia about this weekend's NATO Summit.

Below are some highlights from the interview:

TOURISM

Despite his years in Washington, Emanuel seems much more fulfilled in his current line of work, much of which means trying to boost tourism to the city.

"The third largest city in America ranks 10th on tourism. If we just move to 9th, it's 25,000 new jobs in Chicago and a billion dollars of economic activity....You have to help market your city to increase investments and increase the tourism. You can't do that from Washington. You can't do that from the White House."

That doesn't mean he necessarily wants all visitors to take up residence in Chicago: "You want them to be like family members: visit and leave," Emanuel joked.

CHICAGO AND THE NATION

The mayor spoke proudly of the city in comparison to the country at large, saying that even though both are grappling with "the same set of issues...we're solving them."

"The day I announced [the city-wide parks expansion plan], Washington was doing another 90-day extension of the highway bill because they can't get to an agreement...there, they're not solving it," Emanuel said. "People may not like everything I've put together, but we're addressing our problem. Because we're going to have a 21st century economy on a 21st century foundation."

NATO

"I believe that we can protect people's First Amendment rights of free speech and protect public safety; they're not in contradiction."

"As I like to note to everybody, in the fall, when there was the Occupy issues around the country, we didn't have those type of problems like New York had. Our police department is ready and trained to do this."

"There's an immediate economic benefit [to having NATO here]...but I want the world to come to Chicago, Chicago to come to the world."

Emanuel said that many of the visiting dignitaries "only read that the president is from here," which makes NATO "a unique opportunity for economic growth and job creation for the city."

The topic of the conference – NATO's waning role in operations in Afghanistan – suggests a potentially historic naming opportunity to the mayor. "It will be known basically – I mean I don't know if they'll call it this – the Chicago accords," he said.

PENSION REFORM

"We, under my administration the first year, have been very successful working with Springfield. I can no longer have Chicago act like an island," Emanuel said of last week's trip to talk with legislators about pension reform. "I knew one day I was going to go down to Springfield and I wanted to make it count for something.

"We have to fix it. And it's going to pain-" the Mayor said, stopping to correct his words. "It's going to be...it is going to be hard and difficult. Because in every individual's mind, they have expectation that now we're going to change. And that's very difficult to do."

"Let me tell you what's painful: Keeping a fallacy that we're going to meet our obligations and letting somebody retire knowing that we're not going to be able to. That's painful."

"When you say pain – nothing is more painful than watching people do what's obligated of them that you know they're not going to get."

THE STATE

The topic of whether or not to allow a casino in Chicago dominated the legislative discussion last year, Emanuel spoke of it as a non-issue:

"Everyone's for a Chicago casino, I just can't seem to get – the closest it's ever been in 25 years," he said. But it's "not our only economic plan."

THE FUTURE

When asked by Eight Forty-Eight host Tony Sarabia what he wanted to accomplish in his second year in office, the mayor couldn't resist a joke. "Convince you to shave that beard, so you can be my double and walk around." (The two do bear a passing resemblance.)

He then added, more seriously, "I want to hold onto this can-do spirit that we have now. I think for awhile, the city was adrift," said Emanuel. "I think there's sense of energy, purpose and focus and I want to keep it on the priorities that allow our city to grow."