Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Emanuel Opens Up the Town

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The State's top executive says he'll put the people's interests first.

There’s a term for Rahm Emanuel’s push to bring gambling to Chicago. It’s called “opening up the town.”

We’ve had mayors before who indulged the voters’ desire for vices. William Hale Thompson was restored to office in 1927 on a platform of reopening the gin joints and speakeasies. Richard J. Daley’s accession was aided by the fact that Congressman William Dawson was outraged by Mayor Martin Kennelly’s arrests of policy wheel operators.

Still, it’s a little surprising that a mayor who campaigned as a reformer is making his first expenditure of political capital on an expansion of casino gambling. Emanuel gave the Rahm Treatment to Chicago’s state legislators, calling them at all hours to demand a yes vote on a bill that would bring a casino not only to Chicago, but to Lake County, the south suburbs, Rockford and Danville. It would also bring slot machines to Midway, O’Hare and the racetracks.

“We just passed, in the House at least, the gaming bill, and I've been making calls throughout the weekend, starting this morning at 7:30, even on the ride here and now the ride back,” Emanuel said at a library on Tuesday.

His phone calls were effective. The bill passed the state senate with one vote to spare, 30-27.

It’s clear that Emanuel, the former House Democratic Caucus chairman, is a better legislative engineer than Richard M. Daley, whose role in the state senate was killing reform bills that would have inconvenienced his old man’s Machine.

But now Emanuel has to win his toughest vote: Gov. Pat Quinn. Daley’s early casino dreams were dispelled by Republican Gov. Jim Edgar. Quinn has opposed casino gambling, but, as WBEZ’s Kristen McQueary writes, the state is so desperate for money he may change his mind:

Whether Quinn will sign, veto or change the gaming bill with his amendatory pen remains to be seen. He expressed distaste for the legislation in the past, but he also faces more than $6 billion in past-due bills and no new revenue to pay them. The 67 percent personal income tax increase approved in January was not enough to cover operating expenses, plus the state’s bill backlog.

If Emanuel can get Quinn to sign the casino bill, he’ll be just as effective, and just as shady, as we thought he was.

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