Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: Emanuel Could Learn a Thing or Two From Bill de Blasio

Mayor Emanuel and Bill de Blasio met for an hour Friday to discuss mayoral transition

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Running a big city is hard. Especially if you’ve never done it before.

So it makes sense Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the likely next mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, got together for a chat on Friday.

According to reports, the two met for about an hour and discussed “transition and urban affairs.”

In many ways, Chicago and New York City are a lot alike. Both are experiencing crises in crime and paying the bills, and are struggling to figure out how to best educate its children. Both are huge points of entry for immigrant populations and represent a sea of conflicting demographic and ethnic groups. Both have entrenched political constituencies, such as public sector unions, financial elites and property owners, that must be placated and protected.

But despite some similarities, and a number of places where their political paths have crossed in the past, Emanuel and de Blasio could hardly be any different in their approach to running a city.

For many, de Blasio’s ascendency to the mayor’s office in New York, which he is expected to win handily in Tuesday's election, is both a model for how to approach big-city problems with a progressive agenda and a potential resurgence for left politics across America.

Meanwhile, here in Chicago, Mayor Emanuel is increasingly seen more as an heir to the current Republican mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg: focused on the needs of the financial elite, disdainful of public sector employees and seeking to privatize as much of the city’s infrastructure and services as possible.

For his part, de Blasio has run an unabashedly liberal campaign. He’s highlighted what he calls a “tale of two cities” that explicitly highlights rising inequality. He’s promised to put an end to the divisive “stop and frisk” policies of the New York City police. He’s proposed raising taxes on the wealthy to help fund public education programs, and has advocated to ensure New York City workers have paid sick leave.

Mayor Emanuel? He’s closed public schools, shut down services most needed by the city’s poor and most vulnerable, catered to the top 1% of wage earners in the city and attacked public sector workers. And, instead of reaching out to attract supporters from across the city, as de Blasio has done, Emanuel has developed an increasingly insular, increasingly autocratic method of governing.

Many political observers could write these differences off as simply a matter of style or different philosophies on how to successfully run a big city with all of its challenges.

The thing is, Emanuel is supposed to be a Democratic—with a big “D”—mayor. And Democrats are supposed to be for things like inclusion, opportunity, the right to collectively bargain, and a fight against fundamental inequalities in American society.

Of the two, de Blasio’s already acting more like a liberal Democrat before he’s even elected than Rahm has more than two years into his term.

During their chat, Emanuel most likely had some very useful tips on how to run a big city and meet all of its challenges.

Hopefully, de Blasio had a few words in return for Emanuel on how to act like a big city Democratic mayor.

Or, better yet, the two can get together again in a few months and Bill can show Rahm exactly how it's done.

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