One reason Mayor Rahm Emanuel receives such oleaginous coverage from national publications is that no national reporters actually live in Chicago.
Take Jonathan Alter, who wrote the “we’re just a couple of elite guys hanging out” profile of Emanuel in this month’s issue of The Atlantic. Alter grew up in Chicago, in a politically-connected family (his mother, Joanne Alter, was a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the first woman elected to countywide office). But he left as a teenager to attend Phillips Academy and Harvard University. He now lives in New Jersey, which explains why he can call Emanuel a “reformer” and write “Chicagoans like having a rich mayor; it gives them one less thing to worry about.” And “so far almost everyone -- except members of the Chicago Teachers Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and their backers -- likes Rahm’s performance.”
An afternoon in any neighborhood tavern might have convinced him otherwise.
Now, we finally have an actual Chicago resident writing about Emanuel for a national outlet. Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, has a piece on RollingStone.com entitled “Rahm Emanuel Has a Problem With Democracy.”
Perlstein, who has to live with Rahm just like all the rest of us, excoriates Rahm for the expanded powers he seized to deal with the G8/NATO summit (now just the NATO summit), for claiming speed cameras are for the safety of our children, and for giving most of his City Hall face time to big-money donors. (Perlstein also dismisses Alter’s story as “Rahmpropaganda,” the latest neologism playing on Rahm’s name.)
What Rahm seems to be doing is building a new machine for our age of union busting and austerity. His budget, which the City Council passed 50 to 0 like it was some Soviet Party Congress, killed six community mental health clinics, saving $2.3 million dollars, and proposed to carve $10 million and 110 union jobs from Chicago’s libraries; in the face of protest, he restored $5.3 million and 55 workers to the system. As the progressive Chicago journalist Curtis Black points out , it’s instructive to compare that $7 million in precious, precious budget savings to some of the free public money he’s handed out to corporations. An animal testing company that serves Big Pharma, Experimur LLC, got $3.7 in “tax increment financing” — basically a loan given with little public accountability that’s supposed to be paid back by the tax revenue future growth creates – to save their 26 jobs: “It does appear that, job-wise, libraries get you a bigger bang for your buck,” Black wrote in the Community Media Workshop’s publication Newstips . And he offered his second biggest campaign contributor , the Chicago Mercantile Exchange already a very profitable corporation, a TIF grant of $15 million for office renovations, including a luxury bathroom. (The CME turned the grant down.)
Welcome to the new machine: cuts to schools, libraries, and mental health; cash to corporations. And should you have the insolence to protest it – well, you’d better be able to afford a damned good lawyer.
That’s the sort of attack on City Hall you rarely read outside the Reader or The Chicago Reporter. Perlstein is a left-leaning journalist. The fact that critiques of Emanuel only come from that direction demonstrates that, despite his association with President Obama, he is the conservative establishment in Chicago.