Hearing the mayor talk about his first year in office, he describes having to begin fixing a city-- led for over two decades by Mayor Daley--that had lost its direction and confidence.
He says he loves the challenge of getting Chicago on the move again.
"I've never been happier in public life than the job I have now," Emanuel said.
The mayor sat down with ABC7's Charles Thomas at the Chicago Food Depository following an event that was not on the public schedule given the media. He says that during his first year, he frequently visits about ten city locations under the radar.
"One of the things, Charles, I try to do is learn something every day," the mayor said. "There's not a single day that goes by that I don't learn something or somebody doesn't say something that gets me to thinking."
Emanuel was sworn in on May 16, 2011. He listed as his major first year accomplishment the city council's unanimous passage of his budget. It cut spending and city workers, increased water rates and city sticker fees. It shrunk or consolidated departments, put garbage pickup on a less-costly grid system, closed police stations, mental health centers and more, without a property tax increase for city government.
"The biggest thing we've turned around is reminding people that the taxpayers and the residents are the priority," he said.
"He is the closer," said South Side Alderman Leslie Hairston. "He comes in and he gets it done and he moves on."
Hairston was in the minority voting against Emanuel's speed camera and infrastructure trust programs. She fears the mayor is transferring power from the city council to himself.
"For those of us who are elected to represent our respective communities, there's a lot of danger," Hairston said.
The school board appointed by Emanuel raised property taxes. The mayor won school reform in Springfield to make it easier to fire bad teachers and to implement a longer school day and year.
"The time allows for the quality of education," Emanuel said.
"There's so far no extra money for that," said Linda Lenz of Catalyst Magazine. "We don't know what's going to happen with the Chicago teachers' union contract union contract. So that's full of land mines."
"This mayor is not afraid to deal with issues that are very difficult to deal with," said Chicago Federation of Labor's Jorge Ramirez.
Meanwhile, union leaders praised the mayor's efforts at job creation, while criticizing what they say is Emanuel's introduction of work rule and pension proposals in the media.
"Going out to the media or the press without having talked to your collective bargaining partners first is always a strategy that we work against and are not comfortable with," Ramirez said.
"I'm not gonna get cowed by criticism," said Emanuel. "We work together cooperatively to the benefit of the taxpayers in the city of Chicago. We're creating jobs."
Emanuel said his biggest disappointment so far his failure to deliver on his promise of safer streets in those neighborhoods where gun violence is up sharply.
"Is overall crime down?" Emaneul asked. "Yes. Are the shooting increases gang-on-gang, just gangbangers shooting each other? Yes."
"You cannot ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room," Hairston said. "And until all streets are safe, I don't think you can ever make the claim that the streets of the city are safe."
Fourteen-hour days are still the norm for Chicago's mayor who says the workload is only a fraction compared to his previous job as white house chief of staff.
Privately, insiders say he works at a "campaign pace" as though he's already running for a second term.
"The public will make their judgment and i want to be held accountable and they'll decide whether they want me around," Emanuel said.
Mayor Emanuel's biggest challenges include reaching a contract agreement with the Chicago teachers union and finding ways to close the projected $20 billion shortfall in the city's pension obligation. He'll need help from the state government to accomplish the latter.