Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel served two presidents, represented Illinois in Congress, and on Tuesday, will mark his 100th day as mayor of Chicago. He promised early to put his own mark on Chicago as he took on the city's challenges. Some think he's succeeding.
In the anteroom at City Hall, Emanuel is surrounded by Chicago memorabilia. A few books about Chicago sit near caps of the city's sports teams. The new mayor says he has no regrets about leaving the national stage.
"Here, you get instant feedback, you get a sense of engagement, and you get a way to make decisions about topics that are close to home in the way people live their lives — so I love this," he says.
Emanuel is still involved in national issues — he advises President Obama informally — but says he definitely preferred what he was doing during his first 100 days as mayor "versus dealing with the national debt," he says, laughing. "So if you needed any comparison of where I wanted to be, I enjoyed what I was working on."
'It's no longer Rich Daley's city'
The 100-day benchmark began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it's usually reserved for presidents, says Roosevelt University political analyst Paul Green.
"Given the problems not only FDR faced, but Rahm Emanuel faces, you are basically setting the table [at 100 days] ... there's no real meal cooked," he says. "It's going to take time."
And the biggest problem for Emanuel, says Green, is a projected $600 million-plus deficit in next year's city budget.
"The most he's accomplished is that he's the mayor," says Green. "Remember, he took the place of a guy who'd been in office for 22 years, and in 100 days it's now Rahm Emanuel's city — it's no longer Rich Daley's city."
Emanuel is using the 100-day measurement to crow about some of his accomplishments. He has hired a new police superintendent and a new schools chief. He's announced new jobs for a region that's wrestling with an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent. And in what he considers a major coup, Emanuel has gotten some Chicago workers to agree to managed competition, where public employees compete with the private sector to provide service at the lowest cost.
"That is a paradigm shift of revolutionary proportions," Emanuel says. The mayor adds he's not daunted by the big budget deficit the city faces. He has promised not to raise property taxes, although he has already supported a tax increase for the Chicago public schools.
And Emanuel says he's worked to stay in touch with people outside City Hall. On this day, it's a visit to Palmer Park in Roseland, a far South Side Chicago neighborhood plagued with gang violence. This is where Emanuel announced he had been able to put more police on the streets by shifting them from jobs on the inside.
"There's nothing more important than the beat officer as the backbone of the police department," he says. "So we have gone through line by line to get to a total of 750 officers who are now in our communities, our neighborhoods, our blocks throughout our city."
Moving in the right direction?
It's too early to determine how successful the mayor is or will be, says former City Clerk Miguel del Valle, while eating at a neighborhood restaurant. Del Valle ran for mayor against Emanuel and says he's reserving judgment. But even he thinks Emanuel is moving in the right direction.
"I like the fact that the mayor keeps telling us every time some corporation decides to establish additional jobs in the city of Chicago, but I want to make sure that some of those jobs are going to the folks in the neighborhoods in the city of Chicago," he says, and not just jobs in the downtown area.
But del Valle says that with people so frustrated with government these days, Emanuel's no-nonsense approach — with no excuses about why things can't get done — simply plays well in this city.