Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he'll continue to make the difficult (and unpopular) choices needed to improve Chicago, declaring: "I didn't say change would be easy."
Besieged by an avalanche of bad press, Emanuel defends himself in an interview with Crain's Chicago Business, making no apologies for controversial decisions on pension reform and public school closings, among else, but also conceding that sometimes he needs to "pull back and listen."
Meanwhile, the city's two largest newspapers are forecasting doom for the reelection-seeking mayor. This past weekend, a Sun-Times headline blared "RAHM ON THE ROPES" as it touted the results of a poll revealing that just one out of five Chicago voters think Emanuel's doing a better job of running things than former Mayor Richard M. Daley. A Tribune editorial board member called him a "walking personality disorder." Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis went one further, joking that even Bozo the Clown could defeat Emanuel at the ballot box.
"I was not nostalgic that this (job) was going to be a walk," he tells Crain's. "I didn't say change would be easy. I said the change would be worth the struggle ... There is slow but steady progress. But we've got to make sure we don't go back."
Responding to criticism of his my-way-or-the-highway attitude, Emanuel argues: "When it comes to being persistent, taking on the gun lobby as I've done or the tobacco companies, I make no bones. There are times not to be weak-kneed."
He remains determined to get his $250 million property tax proposal signed into law as part of a strategy to prop up two underfunded city pensions. Waiting on Governor Pat Quinn's approval, Emanuel proclaims: "The pension reform we achieved for 61,000 city workers is as important for them (state government) as for the city's future."
Despite growing flak from progressives that he caters to the wealthy one percent rather than real Chicagoans, and that he prefers the lifestyle of the rich-and-famous to the nitty-gritty day-to-day of the Average Joe, Emanuel says he won't pull the plug on one trapping of wealth: expensive family vacations, such as his recent 10-day jaunt to Vietnam.
"I love this job, but not at the expense of my children and my relationship with them," he contends.
Emanuel's mayoral shelf life is at risk of being cut short, though, with increasingly louder calls for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to enter the race.
"My job is to do my job," he says. "I know what she said to me and I think she's a person of her word. But I'm going to keep my eye on the ball here."