Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel talked tough Wednesday night, putting people on notice that he's impatient for change and that he won't tolerate anyone who defends the status quo.
Emanuel told a capacity crowd at the Field Museum’s James R. Simpson Theatre that Chicago is at a critical juncture.
"The decisions we make in the next two years, three years, will determine where we're going to be in the next 20 to 30 years," said Emanuel. "If we get them wrong... we could veer off into a Cleveland."
The mayor-elect sounded a wide-ranging alarm, noting the city faces a budget hole of at least $500 million and a school system with the shortest day in America.
He stressed that "business as usual" cannot be tolerated given the size and scope of the city's problems.
"Nobody. Business, labor, administrators... you cannot come to me with your problems with the attitude of defending the status quo. It is not working for the taxpayers," he said to applause. "This is not about a political agenda. This is about a new philosophy. I'm here to deliver a service to people who pay the bills."
And should reform require sharp elbows, then so be it, said an unapologetic Emanuel.
"I am impatient. I am impatient about the type of change that we need," he said. "I won't be patient about a 50 percent graduation rate. I won't be patient about parts of our city that have a murder rate that's per capita that of New York City."
"If you think you need somebody who is patient and not ready to break some eggs, then the 55 percent of folks who voted for me made a mistake," he said.
The event didn't break new ground in terms of policy, but Emanuel gave the sense he was sticking with a campaign pledge that reform was headed to City Hall.
About 700 people paid $10 each to attend the "special" episode of the Chicago Tribune's "Chicago Forward" series, a fact that Ward Room earlier in the day pointed out disenfranchises some and could be seen as borderline pay-for-play.
Joycelyn Winnecke, the Tribune associate editor who oversees the events, said they're typically co-sponsored by corporate advertisers (PNC Bank helped sponsor Wednesday's event) and don't compromise the editorial integrity of the organization.
"It is just another form of journalism," she was quoted in the Tribune's report of the event. "We are always concerned about making certain our editorial integrity is consistent... and we think that a live conversation with the mayor-elect is a great extension of that and a great value to Chicago."