Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

A Kinder, Gentler Rahm? Chicago's Mayor Gets Tough on Social Issues

Emanuel vows to host 1,000 child immigrants and help CPS grads get city jobs

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A kinder, gentler Rahm Emanuel has emerged this week, making two grand gestures that show a more compassionate side of the rough-edged Chicago mayor.

    It is election season, after all.

    Emanuel on Wednesday publicly defended a pair of controversial decisions to offer asylum to 1,000 immigrant children escaping Central America and give Chicago Public School grads an advantage in landing city jobs.

    "These kids are leaving violence. There are 1,000 kids. We are not only a city of big shoulders. We’re a city of big hearts, and we welcome them and get ‘em on their way," said Emanuel, according to the Sun-Times. "And we will also make sure that the city of Chicago has universal pre-K, universal kindergarten, expanding after-school programs, expanding summer jobs, because the test and measure of this city is how we treat our children."

    The mayor talked about his grandfather's harrowing escape from violence in Eastern Europe, recalling: "His parents put him on a boat to get away from the pogroms [and] leave the violence. Thirteen years old by himself. Not a word of English to come to a place called Chicago."

    Emanuel is taking some heat from Chicagoans who think he should focus solely on helping children in the city's gang-and-gun-addled neighborhoods while winning kudos from a surprising source: the Tribune's conservative-leaning editorial board, which supports short-term care for child refugees from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

    The U.S. government has asked Chicago to provide shelter and care in facilities that will be paid for by the feds.

    Meanwhile, Emanuel refused to budge amid backlash over his plan to increase the CPS graduation rate through extending city job opportunities to diploma-holders who've made it through high school.

    He said he wants to see public schools' diversity "represented in the workforce" and cited past hiring discrimination against African-Americans in city firefighter exams as a reason for his affirmative action-inspired agenda that has the Chicago Firefighters Union up in arms.

    "We should make sure that kids who are graduating from CPS have a shot at working for the city and getting points for it is consistent with what we want to do because of the diversity of the city and the diverse talent in our city," he said, adding: "That means the Police and Fire Departments are part of it."

    These are the kinds of tough social stances that make Emanuel appear decisive, fair and humane -- and could possibly revamp his tarnished image in the eyes of progressives and African-American groups with whom he's fallen out of favor.

    With an uncertain re-election battle ahead -- possibly against the fiery, charismatic Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis -- it serves Emanuel well politically to reposition himself as a Democrat's Democrat rather than risk being viewed as what many suspect him to be: a Republican-in-Democrat's clothing.