Challenges ahead for Mayor-elect Emanuel

February 23, 2011 4:09:38 PM PST
Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel faces many challenges when he takes office, including financial troubles, underperforming schools and police manpower issues.

One of the first orders of business for President Barack Obama's former chief of staff will be to find his own chief of staff and overall transition team. Long-term challenges include tackling the city's unfunded liability problem, crime and education. Some say he'll likely aim for smaller victories first.

For the new mayor-elect, the honeymoon will be short.

"He needs to step up and perform right away," said Molly Currey. "People are going to not give him the benefit of the doubt. They are going to look for some big things from Rahm."

Emanuel faces a mountain of challenges, chief among them the city's budget woes.

"He talked about shared responsibility. There's got to be some pain," said Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green. "You cannot sugarcoat any longer."

Emanuel will aim to cut waste while creating new revenue sources, not an easy plan, as Mayor Daley found with his privatization of parking meters.

During the campaign, Emanuel proposed a lowering of the sales tax, while adding a new service tax for some businesses.

"You gotta tax where the economy is going, not where it's been," Green said. "We have a manufacturing tax based on a manufacturing economy. We don't have a manufacturing economy. We've got to find revenue."

Expectations are high in the business community, which is looking for a plan for sustained job growth and development.

"We have so many projects in the queue, waiting to go through zoning, waiting to go through licensing, just projects being held up," said Jerry Roper of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Among Emanuel's top priorities will be to find funding for transportation infrastructure improvements.

"We're looking for predictability at the airport," said Roper. "O'Hare International Airport is our economic engine for the region. So we hope that that's really in the top three or four of his priority list, to keep that airport moving forward, working closely with the big airlines."

To avoid bankrupt pension plans, or sticking taxpayers with the bill, Emanuel could be headed for a showdown over union concessions.

In a statement, the Chicago Firefighters Union, which backed Gery Chico, said "[Emanuel] is no more responsible for the fact that City Hall hasn't funded our pensions, than we are. So we really look at this as an opportunity for a fresh start."

The Municipal Workers Union is also extending a cautious hand.

"We congratulate him," said Michael Newman, AFSCME Council 31. "We ask him to try to work with city employees and their unions and not see us as the problem. We're not the problem."

And then there are the all-important neighborhood challenges, improving education and reducing crime.

It will all take time, a luxury Emanuel doesn't have.

"You have to start off with victories. You don't want to start off with defeat. The perception is that you're over your head. The perception is you can't get things done," said Green.

Some say, if Emanuel will start with smaller victories first, he'll likely focus on making solid hires for police superintendent and head of schools, as well as setting a new independent tone at City Hall, which was a central campaign theme.

Emanuel working to build coalition in City Council
by Ben Bradley

While voters were loud and clear in their choice for mayor, 14 aldermanic races remain unsettled. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will have to deal with factions now forming on the City Council that may challenge his power.

Twenty-six is the magic number in the Chicago City Council. That's the number of rock solid votes Rahm Emanuel needs in his pocket to control the council. He doesn't have them yet, but Emanuel is already working to build his coalition.

Chicago has seen the extremes, from council wars under Harold Washington, to the go-along gang enjoyed by Richard Daley. What kind of council will Mayor Rahm Emanuel see when he takes the seat May 16?

"They cannot be a rubberstamp. That's unacceptable. The problems are too big," Emanuel said Wednesday.

Emanuel insists he wants debate, but not destructive opposition. His first battle is shaping up in the Southwest Side's 14th Ward, home to Chicago's longest-serving and most-powerful alderman, Ed Burke.

Emanuel has said he'll take-away the police detail and driver long enjoyed by Burke. Emanuel also hasn't ruled out stripping him of his chairmanship of the council's finance committee, a source of power, prestige and patronage for Burke.

"They're going to have to figure out how to work together," said Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th Ward.

O'Connor has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Burke at the helm of the finance committee. Already, factions are forming.

Emanuel says he'll use some of the millions left in his campaign war chest to help some aldermen facing an April runoff.

For his part, Burke is also offering money and manpower to his council colleagues in tough races.

The third council faction includes nine independent aldermen who have been vocal critics of Daley -- and who were all re-elected.

"He doesn't have a standing army, so he's got to build up his power. He has the bluster. He has the confidence. He has the appearance of being a Mayor Daley, but he's not Mayor Daley," said Dick Simpson, UIC political science professor.

As for the Emanuel-Burke power struggle, keep in mind, Alderman Burke and Mayor Daley aren't exactly fast friends. Yet burke has survived and thrived by achieving a detente with Daley. So it's certainly possible under Mayor Emanuel as well.

Alderman Burke declined to talk with ABC7 Wednesday.