Photo by Zol87 via Flickr/Creative Commons
Mayor Rahm Emanuel gives his Inaugural Address on May 16, 2011, at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park.
How the passage of time makes us reflect. I was extraordinarily fortunate that oh, let’s just say some years ago, then-Mayor-elect Richard M. Daley took a risk on a 24-year-old and gave me the chance to prove myself and to be part of making a difference in this city, even while making some mistakes. On his inauguration day in April 1989, I recall being awed by the enormity of the challenges he faced and appropriately sober about the opportunity I was being handed as I joined his new administration as an Assistant to the Mayor. A colleague and I walked into that grand dame of a building called City Hall, and on a whim decided to get our shoes shined in the lobby before entering our new place of work. It seemed like a lighthearted way to mark a new beginning: reporting for duty, “Daley Agenda” binder tucked under my arm, and shiny shoes on my feet.
Today, I sat among thousands of Chicagoans at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, enjoying the magical music of the Chicago Children’s Choir family that my 11-year-old son is a part of and reflecting on the enormous challenges of this moment. This time, I’m helping the new Mayor as an advocate, not an aide, but I know Rahm Emanuel is up to today’s challenges.
He confronted them head-on in his Inaugural Address, citing better schools, safer streets, a more cost-effective city government, and a diverse economy with good jobs as his top priorities. Certainly no small potatoes. But he reminded himself and all of us that when Mayor Daley took office a generation ago, people were writing off Chicago as a dying city – as “Beirut on the Lake.”
Mayor Emanuel gave due credit to his predecessor – along with Mayor Daley’s wife, Maggie – for their lifetime of service to make our city a better place, and the audience roared its concurrence. He acknowledged he has big shoes to fill, but he also demonstrated he is up to the task. As anyone listening today heard, Mayor Emanuel is both impatient about change and moved by the children who are counting on him to make it so. He noted that during his campaign, he visited Chicago’s tough Roseland neighborhood, where a memorial to slain children literally ran out of space at 220 names – with some 150 more to add. What kind of country are we, he asked, when we have to memorialize an end of innocence?
Mayor Emanuel’s unique mix of toughness and emotion is something I’ve seen firsthand – he helped me land a temporary job when I first moved to Washington, D.C. right out of college, and I’ll always be grateful. These qualities will help him as he leads the city toward more stable financial footing. As he noted, to get our house in order we’ll need to ask ourselves questions such as: Can we afford it? Do we need it? Can we get a better deal? Can we try it another way?
I applauded when he noted that the only answer he would never accept is, “Well, we’ve never done it that way before.” Our new Mayor is chomping at the bit to try something new, something innovative, something that just might transform our schools, communities, government or economy.
Today marked a new era for Chicago – and a new phase in my own career, as my colleagues and I at MPC get ready to roll up our sleeves with this new administration. As I took it in the festivities this morning in Millennium Park, I smiled in the warmth of the crowd that welcomed him home. Chicagoans are ready to go to work with their new mayor.