Mayor Rahm Emanuel marked 100 days in office Monday, releasing a laundry list of accomplishments which he called a “down payment” for what the voters requested when they elected him mayor.
“I am here to give a report to the public so they know that their mayor will be held accountable to achieving what he pledged,” Emanuel said. “I want to hold my commissioners and cabinet accountable. I want to hold myself accountable to the public.”
Emanuel faces a yawning $650 million budget deficit. While he acknowledged that city finances overshadow almost every goal of his young administration, he said money is not a higher priority than the safety of citizens. And he cited the phone calls he makes to the parents of every child shot on the city streets.
“Can a kid go to school thinking about their studies, and not their safety?” Emanuel asked.
The mayor insisted that in addition to safety and security, the strength of the public schools and “changing the culture” of city government were among his top priorities.
But as he stood next to two giant charts trumpeting the achievements of his young administration, Emanuel conceded that Chicago’s money woes must be reined in.
“Stabilizing our finances is essential, and it is a top priority,” he said. “It is clear the city, from revenue, to expenses, to how it manages things, is on an unsustainable course.”
Indeed, the giant deficit which Emanuel inherited, looms over every city department.
“If you ignore it, the problem will get so big that the city’s finances will collapse,” says Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation. “The longer we wait, the budget situation is critical in the next few months.”
“The city faces a real $650 million deficit,” he said. “In addition, the pension contributions for police and fire will spike at over $600 million more than is currently being contributed. That is the equivalent of almost doubling the property tax bill of Chicagoans.
Msall gives the Mayor high marks for the signals he has sent thus far, especially in the area of “managed competition.” Emanuel says he wants to experiment with private contractors and city departments delivering the same services, to determine who can do the best job at the least cost.
“The average person doesn’t care who picks up their garbage or their recycling,” Msall said. “They just want to know that it’s being done as efficiently and effectively as possible.”