CHICAGO – After 100 days on the job, new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is touting his administration’s first accomplishments. The impression is one of boldly charting a new course of change.
The accomplishments touted include transferring more police onto the beat, cutting some financial waste, greater transparency, implementing dedicated bike lanes, encouraging the creation of 4,000 private sector jobs, greater use of the social media to communicate with the public, etc.
To be sure, after 24 years of Mayor Richard M. Daley, some big changes were in order. And Emanuel is inheriting huge problems, including a projected $635 million city budget deficit and a $700 million Chicago Public Schools budget deficit. City unemployment stands at 9.9 percent overall and over 20 percent in the African American community and higher among youth.
But is the new administration really much of a change from Daley? A close look reveals more change in style than substance.
Like the Daley administration, the Emanuel policies represent powerful financial and big business interests and global transnational capital. Among the new accomplishments are many commissions and task forces stocked full of business and finance leaders.
To deal with the city financial crises Emanuel has insisted on “shared sacrifices” so everyone “has skin in the game.” But the sacrifices have all been one sided.
Two of Emanuel’s first big fights have been with organized labor. Emanuel threw down the gauntlet by dictating terms in the public media and bullying public workers, while trying to pit them against city residents.
First, Emanuel pledged to make $75 million in cuts to close a current year budget deficit. Emanuel threatened to lay off 625 city workers unless they agreed to rule changes to save the city $50 million.
The Chicago Federation of Labor leadership subsequently released a report, which contains thoughtful proposals that would instead save the city $242 million.
So far the administration has turned a deaf ear and some observers wonder if the bullying is an effort to intimidate labor and turn city residents against public workers instead of demanding sacrifices from big business. Needless to say, relations with the labor movement have been strained.
Emanuel and new school department CEO Jean-Claude Brizard are also bullying teachers in public. To deal with the Chicago Public Schools budget deficit, the School Board cancelled a 4 percent pay raise that city teachers had coming according to their contract.
The move was part of a larger plan passed, which included a $150 million property tax hike, a $200 million spending cut and tapping $250 million from a reserve fund. It will result in 500 staff layoffs.
Emanuel and Brizard have announced a longer school day and year, which will begin September 2012, despite teacher opposition. A task force has been established to determine how to implement the idea.
Chicago Public Schools “has loaded its advisory council with charter school proponents, parochial school leaders, administration-connected clergy, politicians and union-busting advocacy groups,” Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Stephanie Gadlin told CBS. “This news has nothing do with helping our children and everything to do with politicizing a real serious problem. Our children deserve better.”
Needless to say, teachers’ union President Karen Lewis declined to participate.
But extending the school day would not include hiring extra staff nor do any of the reforms being discussed include reducing class size, which most education experts agree is the most effective way to improve education, and adding extra classroom personnel.
Emanuel has also said little of the Tax Increment Financing Accounts that have been siphoning $500 million a year from city school and parks and used as a mayoral slush fund for economic development. Millions have been invested in downtown development and subsidizing big businesses rather than in community development and schools.
A task force of business leaders has been set up to suggest reforms.
It appears Emanuel will also continue forging ahead on privatization of public services and assets. One indicator is the hiring of Lois Scott as the city’s CFO. Scott was formerly president of the financial advisory firm Scott Balice Strategies, specializing in government privatization deals.
Since taking office Emanuel has been silent on the parking meter debacle and the possibility of renegotiating or cancelling the deal, which was a blatant give-a-way to global capital corporations.
Emanuel decided to implement a privatization deal agreed to by the Daley administration to turn over the city’s recycling program to the transnational giant Waste Management. This is being done under cover of establishing a competition between the private and public sector. In fact, this is a deal that was already made.
And Emanuel favors expanding the number of charter schools, the main form of school privatization. Some of the largest investors, like Bill Gates, the Walton Foundation and hedge funds like the Stearns Family Foundation in Illinois, support the charter school movement. Charters are seen as a way to reduce and eliminate teachers’ unions and any regulations governing wages, benefits and the workday.
Mayor Emanuel may have a new style, but it masks the same political substance of his predecessor. Only a bigger labor led people’s movement can successfully resist the pro-big business policies of the new administration.