This is the third, and last, installment of a series on Rahm Emanuel’s policies as mayor; this time through the lens of his relations with business, and subsequent decisions.
Big city mayors like Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel often take pride in a variety of directives and decisions, especially those that hit the front page of the local newspaper.
And, in that area, Emanuel has not disappointed the public.
But what has disappointed many, especially in the African American community, is that his well-publicized photo-ops with local business people have not translated into jobs.
Second quarter figures for Chicagoland showed a jobless rate of 9.1 percent, a figure that is 2 percent above the national rate; and for the city, the rate was 10.3 percent.
Chicago then obtained the dubious distinction of upstaging Los Angeles with the highest unemployment rate among any of the top ten metropolitan areas..
Recent figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show an increase of 9.1 percent rather than 8.7 for the previous year (in the month of May), for metropolitan Chicago.
Cook County, the nation’s largest county, after Los Angeles, also showed an increase, albeit modest of 9.8 percent, from 9.2 percent, during the same time one year ago.
The gloomiest news is that Chicago area consumers paid more, on average, in selected categories; most glaringly for 3.8 percent in energy rather than -1.0 for the nation’s average.
Perhaps the best news is that Chicago wages are higher in almost all areas than the rest of the country, from lawyers to police officers, and even fast food restaurant cooks.
But, offset against actual costs, both fixed and changeable, the forecast does not bode well for the future third quarter figures.
The mayor, however, seems to take one-step back for each step taken forward, most notably with his infamous transfer of TIF money to Vienna Beef to finance their move from its home on the northeast corner of Damen, Elston and Fullerton to the Bridgeport neighborhood.
The city plans to realign Elston Avenue to the east, to ease congestion, and also plans to buys a portion of the Vienna owned property, as part of the deal.
The move, which Ben Joravsky of The Chicago Reader calls, “the dumbest waste of TIF money I’ve seen though the years,” has drawn the Emanuel style of city economics in sharp relief.
And, as Joravsky notes, when contrasted with the $55 million for the DePaul basketball arena, the promise of expansion of the city’s tax base looks dubious when compared with the erosion of the tax base, with the DePaul deal.
While Emanuel’s office hailed the move as a way to keep 250 jobs in the city, rather than a possible relocation to another state, it looks almost surreal when compared to the “850 Chicago Public School employees fired, when he closed 50 schools.”
Final ratification by the City Council is expected within the next few months, and in a throwback to legacy politics, is expected to be done with little opposition.
In May the Chicago Tribune noted, in their sponsored poll, “Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed gave a thumbs-down to the mayor’s economic development efforts, compared to 28 percent who said they were satisfied.”
African-Americans, in particular, were vocal in their opposition: “73 percent of black voters earning under $50,000, and 69 percent of those from age 18 to 35, think Emanuel has not done enough.”
But, to be fair, he inherited a debt-ridden city, with nary an economic hole to maneuver in, much less to write a balanced budget.
If there is a pattern in the mayor’s fiscal policy and relationships with big business – aside from contributing to his re-election campaign – it is not evident.
Yet, his optimism is consistent as he told a crowd in May, “I don’t create jobs, I create the environment, the atmosphere and the platform for success in the private sector.”
Even those of his most ardent supporters admit that he, despite their overall approval of his administration – 52 percent – according to the poll; do not think that he has done enough for the city, economically.
And, when he has put his face, front and center, on issues they prove mainly to show an uneven hand, at best.
What comes to mind most is his gear-wielding steerage with the Ricketts family and the expansion (some say detrimental) plans to turn the area surrounding Wrigley Field into a profit rich arena for the already wealthy Ricketts family; and whose objectivity could be questioned, and has been, by many observers.
The Vienna Beef TIF deal seems specious enough, considering the deal with the DePaul basketball arena, and makes observing Emanuel’s business hand, cumbersome, if not embarrassing.
The proof of the pudding, of course, is in its eating, and the ballot box may prove to be the final tasting.
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