Rahm Emanuel can't (or won't) fix Chicago

When Rahm Emanual pulled up stakes at Camp Obama and headed home to the Windy City to run for mayor, it seemed like a pretty natural fit. He of the infamous mailing a dead fish and jamming knives in tables incidents was seen as the consummate Chicago Way politician, well equipped to take the top seat in that town. Emanual faces a lot of challenges to be sure, what with a typically collapsing economy, union problems and intra-party warfare, but one of the things he may have underestimated was the metropolitan security / military duties which are part of an urban chief executive’s responsibilities. Chicago has always had serious gang violence problems, but the recent spates of shootings have highlighted how the city is really melting down and earning a place as the murder capital of the country.


Long time Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has been tracking events in his city for decades and seems to think that Rahm might be in over his head.

Is Emanuel a better political operative in Washington than a manager in Chicago? And has his mouth written a check that he can’t cash?

“He’s great at handling the press,” one business leader told me. “He can manipulate you (media) guys well. But can he manage? That’s what we’re worrying about.”

The government-by-press release critique isn’t fiction. It’s the way he runs things. Emanuel relentlessly manages the information, but crafting mythology isn’t leadership…

Thirteen people on the South Side, including a 3-year-old boy, were shot down in a park in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

But the mayor wasn’t in Chicago. He was in Washington raising political cash and planned to grab some more national media face time in the New Jersey Senate campaign of Democrat Cory Booker.

So with blood on the streets of Chicago, and that 3-year-old shot in the face, Emanuel wasn’t in town to hold the news conference. Instead, police Superintendent Garry McCarthy held the news conference, spinning the news by demanding the feds do more.

“Illegal guns, illegal guns, illegal guns drive violence,” McCarthy said. “A military-grade weapon on the streets of Chicago is simply unacceptable.”

It sounds good, but the problem is that the cops aren’t buying it, especially the cops in Englewood and other war zones. They’re exhausted. They need more officers, but the city says it doesn’t have the money to hire them.


It’s a fairly brutal analysis, and yet it fails to drill all the way down to the fundamental problem the city – along with many other places in the USA – faces and the limited choices the Mayor has when dealing with them. More gun control laws in the city of Chicago are not an answer. It’s already such a restrictive zone that virtually nobody but the police and licensed security guards can legally own and carry a weapon. Why, it’s almost as if the city’s gang bangers are ignoring the gun control laws. Inconceivable!

But seriously, the problem is enforcement of the existing laws and the lack of resources to do so.

I asked a respected veteran cop what he’d do about the gang wars. He said this:

Increase hiring, bring back the citywide units, like the mobile strike force, to overwhelm the gangs. And demand that judges and prosecutors lock up the thugs, and demand that the state prisons don’t release the thugs early.

The mantra of Emanuel and McCarthy has been to criticize the people in the neighborhoods for not cooperating with the cops. But the people know the truth of things. The bad guys get out early. And when they’re lectured by politicians, they become even more resentful.

They want to feel safe on their streets and in their parks. They don’t need promises of a gourmet food store. And they don’t much care how the mayor does on Letterman or how great he’ll do in the Robert Redford documentary about how hard he works.

Unfortunately for Chicago’s denizens, their mayor has his hands tied in two areas on this. Enforcing the laws in the manner needed would require money and manpower that he can not summon. And doing so would be an admission that too many guns isn’t the problem… too many criminals and a failure in being able to deal with them is the real issue. Rahm didn’t create the fiscal problems facing the city, but his inability to adopt a philosophy grounded in the reality of how we have to deal with violent crime is a crisis of his own making.


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