A Rahm Emanuel press conference sure is different from a Miguel del Valle press conference. Two weeks ago, when del Valle toured a Rogers Park soup kitchen, only Ward Room and an ABC7 camera showed up to cover the event.
Tuesday morning, when Emanuel spoke at the Better Boys Foundation, a Lawndale community center, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter was there. So were six TV cameras.
A podium labeled “RAHM EMANUEL - MAYOR” bloomed with microphones as radio reporters demanded a sound check from an Emanuel press aide. The candidate himself stood behind a pillar, waiting to go on, while photographers with telephoto machine-gunned for his image.
"He thinks he’s running for president,” one reporter said. "Have you seen his press releases? They said the event was going to start at 10:30 a.m. Central Time. Why do you need to say Central Time? Everyone knows it’s in Chicago.”
Emanuel was as bronzed as an Apache from a 10-day vacation in Thailand. It was the first time he’s seen his family since they spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, he said.
A technician lowered the podium a few inches, since Emanuel is shorter than his press aide.
The press conference was about Emanuel’s plan to expand after-school activities, at community centers like the Better Boys Foundation.
"In 1994," Emanuel said, "I helped President Clinton pass a crime bill. Putting more police on the beat and doing community policing contributed to breaking a 30-year crime increase. The second piece of that, getting kids, guns, drugs off the street, was kids off the street. Those who wanted to play politics ridiculed at the time what they said was ‘midnight basketball."
The Better Boys Foundation has a dance program -- "a great way to warm my heart," Emanuel said -- a computer room, and a film program.
He proposed spending $95 million so kids all over the city can have a place like this: $50 million would come from the federal government, $15 million from Chicago Public Schools, $5 million from non-profits and $25 million from ads on garbage trucks and city stickers.
"That would pay for a full year’s program for a little over 200,000 kids in the Chicago Public Schools so they have after school programs," he said. "In addition to that, there will be a third meal. Kids will be safe, and kids will be learning.”
After a few polite questions about the after-school plan, the reporters asked Emanuel what they really wanted to know:
-- Will Bill Daley be able to handle the White House chief of staff’s job?
"Bill is a friend of mine, we’ve worked together, and he’s quite capable."
-- Do you want to replace Superintendent Jody Weis?
"The superintendent’s contract is up. He’s already indicated he’s interested in moving on."
-- How was your vacation?
"It was a great trip. I haven’t seen my family since Thanksgiving, and I got a chance to spend time with Amy and the kids during a period that traditionally you spend with your family."
-- Are you going to win the residency case?
"The board made a decision. They decided that I was doing my work as President Obama’s chief of staff. That didn’t change my status or my love for the city. I’ve been a congressman for the city of Chicago, paid property taxes to the city of Chicago, raised my kids in the city of Chicago."
-- Do you agree with other candidates who want to cancel the parking meter deal?
"What is upsetting to the people of Chicago is that we used those resources not to improve our infrastructure, but to pay our bills. I will ask people to look at that deal to see if there’s any part of it we can renegotiate to get a better deal for the taxpayers."
At some point, the placard fell off Emanuel’s podium.
"I hope that’s not an omen," he cracked as everyone laughed. It was good to be home.