Rahm vows to work for reform

February 24, 2011 4:31:14 AM PST
One day after his landslide victory, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel focused on one of his top priorities -- fixing the city's finances.

By the time the mayor-elect entered his 11 a.m. news conference at the Union League Club, he had already been up six hours. After swimming, calling two radio stations, visiting an El stop and a fire station, he made his first post-election declaration about what would be his governing style.

"I will reach out my hand to everybody to work for reform," Emanuel said.

Then he fired his first shot as mayor-elect across the bow of the good ship City Council.

"The voters were clear. The status quo across the waterfront of issues is unacceptable," Emanuel said.

The former White House chief of staff won a 55-percent Election Day majority to avoid a runoff. Candidate Gery Chico came in second place with 24 percent. Both Miguel del Valle and Carol Moseley Braun received 9 percent.

Emanuel's supporters called the victory that crossed neighborhood and ethnic boundaries a mandate.

"It's widespread, it's every neighborhood. It's young and old," David Vite, Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

"It's not about race, it's not about ethnicity, it's not about one community. It's about one city," said Juan Rangel, United Neighborhood Organization.

Supporters also admired Emanuel's endurance and tenacity.

"You don't need a pushover. I like his toughness. He believes that when you take on the job, you take on the responsibility that goes with it," said Jesse White, Ill. Secretary of State.

The mayor-elect affirmed his campaign promise to replace Police Superintendent Jody Weis and took issue with reports that citywide crime is down, saying it's still too high in some neighborhood.

"We have made progress but not progress enough. And I will not be satisfied with the progress we've made," said Emanuel.

To move his agenda, Emanuel will need the cooperation of Chicago's 50-member City Council that in the past has been criticized as Mayor Daley's rubber stamp.

"Rahm has never been one, you know, not to take the front seat," said Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward.

Emanuel hinted that he, too, would attempt to control the council by getting involved in the aldermanic runoff campaigns.

"There will be an election April 5th about reform and change. And anybody who wants to be a partner in that effort, I want to see helped," he said.

Help for aldermanic candidates is likely to include cash from what's left in Emanuel huge campaign war chest.

The mayor-elect said he would have liked to have seen more than Tuesday's reported 42-percent voter turnout.

"But it doesn't diminish the sense of reform and the urgency that is required to bring those reforms through and see them through to fruition," said Emanuel.

The 51-year-old millionaire will be the wealthiest Chicago mayor in modern times. He promised to protect the defined benefits pensions of city workers. But he would not commit to maintaining their current payout levels as he repeated his vow not to take a city pension himself.

He downplayed his election as Chicago's first Jewish mayor and took more pride in the fact he is the son and grandson of immigrants.

"I don't think in the wildest sense of the opportunity that Chicago or America would offer that they would once see the son and the grandson of an immigrant as the mayor of the city that they settled in," he said.

Emanuel made an appeal to public service professionals, saying he wants them, as opposed to political appointees, to work in his administration as it attempts to reinvent city government.

Prior to running, Emanuel had said for a long time that being the mayor of the city of Chicago would be his dream job. When Mayor Daley announced in September 2010 he would not run for re-election, Emanuel put his hat in the ring, and now his dream job is a new reality.

His millions of dollars in campaign money, national recognition as the White House chief of staff and high-profile support from presidents Clinton and Obama were too much for his competition to overcome. Emanuel's opponents in the race were hoping to hold him to below 50 percent of the vote and force a runoff election in April.

Pres. Barack Obama released the following statement Tuesday: "I want to extend my congratulations to Rahm Emanuel on a well-deserved victory tonight. As a Chicagoan and a friend, I couldn't be prouder. Rahm will be a terrific mayor for all the people of Chicago."

While greeting commuters Wednesday morning, Emanuel briefly talked to reporters cramming around him at a train turnstile. He focused on the issues he wants to tackle first.

"The same thing I have always said: make sure that we bring safety to our streets, quality education to our neighborhood schools, and make sure our economy is producing the jobs for all residents and all neighborhoods to participate," he said.

Emanuel also answered questions about the strong support he received from black voters and mending possible racial divides in politics.

"Do we have differences? Yes, but cannot and will not allow them to become points of division," he said. "We have received great support throughout the city."

Rahm Emanuel's vote total may be the lowest in Chicago history for any mayor, and that may be due in part to a lower-than-expected voter turnout, which was between 42 and 43 percent.

Emanuel will succeed Mayor Richard Daley who will leave office as the longest-serving mayor in the city's history. He takes the oath of office May 16.