Rahm’s Ruined City

Chicago sees rise in violence, unemployment, cronyism, and debt as Emanuel takes DNC stage

Rahm Emanuel / AP
September 4, 2012

Democrats are looking to mayors to make their case to the country, but the mayor closest to the Obama White House is having plenty of trouble in his own city.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who addresses the convention tonight along with San Antonio mayor and keynote speaker Julian Castro, has presided over a city with escalating violence, high unemployment, political cronyism, and high debt.

The homicide rate in Chicago has risen by 30 percent in 2012 under Emanuel, who came into office in May of 2011. At the same time, murders have dropped or held steady in other major cities such as Los Angeles and New York. As of August 21, 346 people had been killed in Chicago, while 265 had been killed by this time last year.

The murders include a slaying two blocks away from President Obama’s Hyde Park mansion, which has four fireplaces and a thousand-bottle wine cellar. A week after that murder, a 17-year-old boy was shot even closer to the President’s home.

The rising levels of crime prompted Emanuel to embrace a racist religious leader in an effort to protect people on the streets.

Emanuel, who is Jewish, welcomed help in patrolling the streets from the Nation of Islam. Louis Farrakhan, who leads the Nation of Islam, has a track record of anti-Semitic remarks and once referred to Jews as "satanic."

This rising crime under Emanuel’s watch is coupled with high unemployment, which was at 9.2 percent in July, well above the national average.

Political cronyism has not helped the economic situation. A federal lawsuit against Emanuel alleged that 11 police officers formerly part of the mayor’s security detail were unlawfully demoted and replaced by individuals who helped Emanuel’s mayoral campaign. The white and Hispanic officers also accuse Emanuel of keeping African American officers with less seniority while the mayor’s top aides are overwhelmingly white.

Racial discrimination is not the only accusation of discrimination that has been leveled against Emanuel in the past, however. While Obama’s Chief of Staff, Emanuel ran a so-called "boys' club" in the West Wing. According to Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, the White House "actually fits all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."

Richard Daley, Emanuel’s replacement at the White House and brother to Emanuel’s predecessor in Chicago’s town hall, said about Emanuel in an interview, "I did hear that there were some issues [with women] early on under the predecessor of mine so I can dump on him for that." Daley also said Emanuel, who has a reputation for an explosive temper, would likely call him after he said that.

In his current position as mayor, Emanuel’s first budget left a gap of $369 million. This disparity is less than the original predictions but still leaves a massive hole in his 2013 budget. However, even this dire prediction might be a bit rosy: The Chicago Tribune reported that "Unless the mayor and aldermen continue making progress, the budget gaps will widen once again, reaching $580 million in 2015. And that figure doesn't take into account a huge surge in required public employee pension payments slated to kick in that year."

Emanuel’s manifold troubles are affecting his plans for the convention. Originally scheduled to stay in Charlotte today through Friday, he will return to Chicago on Wednesday as the city faces the possibility of enduring its first teachers strike in 25 years.