Emanuel's former opponents grade his first 100 days

August 26, 2011

(AP/Brian Kersey, file)
Mayoral candidates Gery Chico, Rahm Emanuel, Miguel del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun at a February deabte before the election.

Today we wrap up our coverage of Rahm Emanuel's first 100 days in office. All week we've brought you stories about the new Chicago mayor: what he's accomplished, where he's fallen short.

Now we give the microphone to people who tried to stop Emanuel from getting the job in the first place. We asked the mayor's political opponents to grade his first 100 days.

Miguel del Valle thinks this story is stupid. Okay, so he didn't actually say that to me. He's too polite. But last week at a diner on Western Avenue, around bites of oatmeal and raisins, del Valle complained about the whole notion of 100 day assessments.

"Well, I don't think it's a benchmark that should be used at all," del Valle said. "It takes time."

Del Valle is a former city clerk, and up until February 22, a candidate for mayor. He finished a very distant third to Emanuel.

"The 100 days is more about a perception of whether or not there's movement, whether of not that movement is in the right direction," del Valle said.

One area where del Valle thinks Emanuel is moving in the wrong direction is on property taxes.

"The mayor said there would not be a property tax increase in the city of Chicago," del Valle said. "Well, we're looking at a property tax increase for CPS. Now, I think it's a bit disingenuine on the part of the administration to say, 'Well,  we said that there wouldn't be a property tax increase for city services.' Well, the schools are a part of the city."

Generally speaking, though, del Valle said Emanuel is doing well, has energy and a no-nonsense approach to governing. But he said it's too early to judge how Emanuel will do when it comes to the city's $600 million budget deficit, or other big-ticket items.

"Well, I'd give him an A for effort," said another mayoral candidate, Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, delivering a preliminary grade for Emanuel. If the 2015 election were held today, Watkins said she'd vote for her one-time opponent.

"He has surpassed my expectations," Watkins said. "I did not expect him to get out in the neighborhoods like he has, and talk to the people, because he shied away from all the forums. And he was more like a television - he ran a campaign - a Rose Garden campaign. But I've seen him in the neighborhoods. And I've seen him talk to people, and try to figure out what people are concerned about."

One thing Watkins is concerned about that she hasn't heard Emanuel address, is the issue of ex-offenders: how to help people leaving prison stay out of prison.

"Now, I met with Rahm Emanuel right after the election, and I talked to him about the ex-offender issue," Watkins recalled. "And he told me he understood it. He said, 'I understand if we do not provide some type of re-entry support for people coming back...they're going to continue in that cycle and we're going to continue to pay. He said, 'I haven't figured out how to deal with it yet.' But he said, 'It's important to me, and I am thinking about it, and I want you to know that.'"

Watkins is still waiting.

During the campaign, she got a lot of exposure after a major candidate, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, ridiculed Watkins for her past - admitted - drug abuse.

The former senator declined to talk for this story, because - she told me - an interview would be like "one cocktail" for a "recovering politician." But one of her key supporters did agree to weigh in on Emanuel's first 100 days.

"Right now, it's a mixed review," said Jonathan Jackson, who is the national spokesman for Rainbow PUSH, and - though he'd rather not be known just for this - the son of the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He sharply criticized Emanuel during the campaign as a stranger to the South Side who only came around to get votes.

Sitting in his father's office last week, Jackson told me he wishes Emanuel were speaking out more on some things - like the increase in shootings by police. But he sees positive signs.

"I would congratulate him on taking a stand on increasing the school day," Jackson said. "I like to see that the new schools CEO is going to reinstitute recess back into the Chicago Public Schools. It never should have been gone. So those are important steps."

Jackson said he has not met or talked with Emanuel since the election day, though he acknowledged he has not requested a meeting.

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez has met with Emanuel. Perhaps uncomfortably, though, as Gutierrez backed candidate Gery Chico in the mayoral race, and recorded a Spanish-language commercial claiming Emanuel "turned his back to us and our most vulnerable families" when it came to immigration reform.

Gutierrez's tone has changed dramatically. The congressman's spokesman said in an email that Gutierrez "is extremely impressed and encouraged by the mayor's first few months in office" especially his work "related to immigrants." And he said Gutierrez and Emanuel are "developing a good working relationship."

Gery Chico, it should be noted, has been appointed chair of the state Board of Education but is still awaiting state Senate confirmation - a limbo that could explain why he didn't answer my repeated interview requests.

Chico's biggest supporters during the campaign - and therefore, Rahm Emanuel's biggest detractors - were labor leaders. And many of them declined to comment for this story. But not Rocco Terranova.

In addition to having an awesome name, Rocco Terranova is head of the Sheet Metal Workers' Union Local 73. About a thousand of his members live in Chicago, but only 87 of them work for the city. Still, their union was - and is - concerned about Emanuel. About privatization that could cost jobs. About overtime changes that could mean smaller paychecks.

"He's probably a little better. He's better than we thought," Terranova said this week. "We haven't had a lot of changes that we thought were going to come down right away against the unions, to be honest. So, we haven't...we feel very fortunate to be working with him."

Other union leaders have criticized Emanuel's early posturing with labor. But for the sheet metal workers, the mayor is benefiting from exceptionally low expectations.

And there could be something else at play in all this nice talk. Who could blame Rocco Terranova, Luis Gutierrez and other former Emanuel critics from trying to develop "working relationships" with him? Or all those others who didn't want their comments in this story?

For at least the next three years and 265-odd days, he is the mayor.