Rahm Emanuel: Mayor of the People
by tom negovan
Mayor Rahm Emanuel rides the Brown Line to City Hall twice a week.
In the daycare at Chicago’s oldest nonprofit, the kids have been whipped into a frenzy by all the strangers. A dozen reporters and photographers are in the playroom at Metropolitan Family Services, toddlers whirling around their legs, the grown-up at the center of attention making the children the center of his. Seconds after hitting the door, he’s at a tiny table, suit jacket off, working Play-Doh with a five-year-old named Angel. A tiny girl in a frilly, sea-green dress wanders by. They smile like old friends. She falls into his arms, chats awhile, pirouettes away. The cameras and reporters file out, the mayor of Chicago still crouched with the kids, smiling like he’s forgotten why he’s there.
This is Rahmbo?
If Rahm Emanuel has a tough-guy reputation, he’s come by it honestly.
Days later, in his fifth-floor office at City Hall, he leans in close, his tone very precise. “Look,” he says, “I am passionate about getting things done that I believe in.” At this range, it’s tough to doubt him. “Nobody asked me to come here and keep the status quo. I ran on change. I’m trying to make change happen. It is tough. On education and safety, I will not allow, when we know what we need to do, politics to prevent us.”
His first year in office has brought plenty of opposition—on education reform, public safety, fees, cuts, and transparency. A coalition of aldermen formed to oppose his first budget before the City Council passed it unanimously. In the city that works, Emanuel is unapologetically getting things done.
At the daycare event, he explains. “I’m driven by, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King and his speech on the Mall, the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ I cannot wait another year and allow a child to be caught in a school system that for five years running has been on the watch list with no prospect of getting off it.” As if instinctively acknowledging his critics, he adds, “I understand the noise around change. I’m sensitive to it. But I also can’t stand by and watch the silence—which is deafening—of failure.”
photography by michael edwards