In an exclusive interview with Andy Shaw, president and CEO of the Better Government Association, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted his administration's track record on ethics while acknowledging there's more to accomplish on the reform front.
The one-on-one interview Dec. 18, 2014 at the downtown-based Union League Club, which lasted for nearly an hour, explored various good government issues, including: need for a privatization ordinance, increased government transparency, police accountability, tax-increment financing, campaign finance as well as Emanuel's leadership style.
The mayor led off the event with an announcement that the Chicago Park District is now in compliance with the federal Shakman Decree, completing the work to free all branches of city government from federal oversight of hiring due to decades of rampant patronage.
"Now, what you know is more important than who you know," Emanuel said. "In the last three-and-a-half years, we've gotten something done that no one thought was possible in the city."
The mayor also strongly defended his use of tax increment financing, or TIF, proceeds as a redevelopment tool and his way of eliciting public feedback on major policy initiatives or projects.
Rahm, Reform & BGA
Emanuel estimated that 80 percent of TIF dollars are used for the public's benefit in the form of schools, parks, libraries and public transit. The mayor also said that he favors establishing task forces to engage in public dialogue about major issues and then provide recommendations based on what they've heard. Emanuel said he's used that feedback for his decisions to pursue a minimum wage increase and to nix plans to privatize Chicago Midway International Airport.
The process to study the proposed Midway deal and seek public input is one Emanuel said that he'd like to formalize in consideration of other major privatization deals down the road. The mayor said he wants to draft an ordinance that will avoid a return to privatization deals, such as the widely disparaged Chicago parking meter deal that occurred during the regime of his predecessor Richard M. Daley.
The key to preventing future parking meter deals, Emanuel told Shaw, is to provide thorough examination of the proposal and then allow ample time for the city council and the public to vet the pros and cons.
On budget reform, the mayor acknowledged that the city continues to struggle with debt, but he said the administration has made tough choices and structural reforms that have the city headed in the right direction. "I did not say that in three-and-half years I was going to change all the paths, but we have changed directionally where we're going and we're making fundamental different choices that get us to the place where we need to be," Emanuel said.
The event, dubbed "Rahm, Reform & BGA" was held in a fifth-floor ballroom at the Union League Club of Chicago before a crowd of nearly 50 BGA supporters, board members, staff, media and invited guests. Several news outlets covered the interview and produced news stories on the mayor's responses.
More than three years ago, Emanuel sat down with Shaw for a similar interview on his first 100 days in office and his goals moving forward.