Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is leaving the door open to running for office again.
In his last interview as mayor on WBEZ’s Morning Shift Wednesday, the two-term mayor, former White House chief of staff and former U.S. congressman said he’s “not done doing stuff in the public arena.”
“Probably it is the end,” Emanuel said when asked if he’d run for another elected office. “But I know from two other experiences — both Congress and mayor — to say emphatically that I’m not, it would be wrong.”
In the past, Emanuel has said he’d “never” run for president, but he’s been coy about running for other elected offices. His immediate plans include cycling around Lake Michigan, writing a book, attending his son’s college graduation and traveling to Europe with his wife, Amy Rule.
The outgoing mayor has been reflecting on his eight years in office for the past couple of weeks as he prepares to exit on May 20, when Lori Lightfoot will take over at City Hall.
Here are a few edited highlights from his conversation with Morning Shift host Jenn White.
On economic development
Mayor Rahm Emanuel: On the operating budget, the truth of the matter is [...] we went from [a deficit of ] $635 million annually down to about $92 [million]. The economy is — and the strength of the Chicago economy because we have the highest employment now in the history, with the lowest unemployment — is we’re able to have our actual operating budget balanced. There’s some, on the margins, I would say, improvements to be made. The pension, I would say to you, is the bleeding stopped. We haven’t turned the corner. ... I do believe there are changes to be made, but [...] I think that’s for the next mayor to decide.
On neighborhood planning
Emanuel: I used to say to both President Clinton and President Obama [...] if we knew in the first year of the first term what we knew by the first year of the second term, we’d be geniuses, and there’s always a learning experience [...] A topic I couldn’t say that I had a grasp of because you don’t do it is planning [...] So take a look at Woodlawn. We have redone the train station [...] rebuilt the high school in the neighborhood [...] The police district has our strategic center and new officers. We ended a 47-year food desert with Jewel moving in. There’s about $100,000 more retail through coffee shops, restaurants, things that never happened in the Woodlawn community, and other thriving businesses [...] Organizing in a more robust fashion those investments, then you can start to see the tide turn differently for neighborhoods.
Emanuel: After eight years, anybody could say there’s always things that you could do different, but let’s just take education as a space that was troubling [...] We had the shortest school day in the United States of America [...] We had the worst public funding of education in America. Fact. We had the worst graduation rate of any big city in America. Fact. The only last big city in America that did not provide full-day kindergarten to every child. Fact [...] Now, fast forward. Our kids are outpacing 98% of America in reading and math gains — Stanford University. We have the fastest growing graduation rate of a big city in America, outpacing the country by a multiple of three. We have more kids going to college than ever before in the history of the city and we have, every year, seven consecutive years of graduation growth, and our community colleges with the free community colleges [...] are seen as a model for the country.
On policing and the code of silence
Emanuel: I think the way I look at it [...] is you can’t fix something if you don’t acknowledge it. I’m the first mayor to acknowledge that challenge. Second — I’m not saying just in Chicago. This is not an issue isolated to the city of Chicago. I think we’ve done it different, and our reforms are actually taking hold. I think I put in the right type of leadership, the right type of accountability and systems, and I think leadership sets an example. But this is not an endpoint. It’s a work in progress that you’re constantly at [...] It’s a constant work in progress both for the rules, the culture, the leadership you select and the example they set.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity by Libby Berry and Alex Keefe.