Don't Call 2016 The Year Of Rahm's Comeback

By aaroncynic in News on Dec 27, 2016 9:50PM

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As many Chicagoans rang in 2016 with celebrations, scores of journalists spent the bulk of the evening combing through more than 3,000 pages of emails related to the Laquan McDonald shooting scandal, thanks to a data release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office that now feels like the start of an annual year-end tradition.

What we saw was something Chicagoans have been familiar with since Emanuel declared that under his reign the city would be “the most open, accountable, and transparent government” we’ve ever seen: an administration scrambling to put on its best PR face to prevent political blowback from one of many all-too-frequent local tragedies.

Now as we close the books on 2016, the Mayor’s Office is hoping we forget how things played out over the year—or at least remember them differently so his bid to be re-elected mayor in 2018 goes his way.

But despite calls for Emanuel to run the Democratic National Committee and other glowing reviews of his year, I wouldn’t call 2016 a “comeback” for Rahm. But since the Sun-Times seems to think it is, let's review the record.

The mayor has tried to paint himself a reformer of broken institutions that have contributed for decades to the economic decline of Chicago’s neighborhoods and the epidemic of violence that touches nearly every square mile of the city. But his efforts have been mostly window dressing to keep our eyes off the shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

First of all, Emanuel should not be lauded for dolling out money to the victims of notorious police torturer John Burge—he merely agreed to a deal that was hard fought for years by those victims and other activists. In fact, the City cut checks amounting to tens of millions of dollars this year alone in police misconduct settlements, and from 2012 to 2015 has spent at least $210 million on them. And while Rahm ditched the much maligned Independent Police Review Authority for what he’s called the “Civilian Office of Police Accountability,” activists and community groups have said it’s little more than a quick makeover.

“Here's a man who sat on incriminating evidence of one of the most horrendous murders in this city for 400 days and he gets a chance to parade in front of us as a social reformer, as someone who's going to bring police accountability to this city? We don't think so,” Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said in an October press conference.

It’s also hard to give Rahm much credit for the literal eleventh hour agreement between the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union which eventually lead to him cracking open Chicago’s TIF slush fund. Education advocates, the union and multiple other groups had been demanding exactly that when the CTU walked the picket line in 2012 and again when he presided over the largest closure of public schools in history. Much like the time he tried to take most of the kudos for the closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants during his reelection run, something smells funny.

Yes, Rahm was right to call out the “40 years of financial neglect” South and West side neighborhoods have faced. But his role in shuttering schools and continuing to give TIF funding to well-connected corporations for downtown projects is all part of that divestment in Chicago neighborhoods—not the fix for it. And putting a Whole Foods in Englewood is hardly a fix, either.

It’s hard to say whether or not Emanuel’s attempt to use 2016 to whitewash years of the fallout from austerity-driven policies will work, but the reframe is just one piece of the puzzle. Quarterly filings in September showed that Emanuel had a balance of $670,000 in his campaign coffers, and filings after that show he’s already raised at least $200,000. And while nearly $1 million is barely a drop in any modern political campaign’s bucket, it shows his fundraising machine is already hard at work to hold the 5th floor in 2018.