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Rahm and Steve Jobs



    Since Mayor Rahm Emanuel rarely grants in-depth interviews to local media -- and often gets in the face of reporters when he does -- we at Ward Room try to keep you abreast of his interactions with the national media. It’s the only way we can find out what’s on our mayor’s mind.

    Emanuel’s latest big interview is with Fortune magazine. As part of the magazine’s series on leadership, Emanuel talked with senior editor-at-large Geoff Colvin. Previous subjects have been business figures, including investor Charles Schwab, and Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric. Here are some of the highlights.

    On cutting city employment: I’ve eliminated 500-plus positions permanently -- not left them vacant -- permanently. I asked every one of my commissioners, “What is your mission? Don't tell me it’s what we did last year, and because of inflation I need 2% more. Just tell me what you do. Now, does your organization chart, and who you have, fulfill that mission, and who's not essential to it?” So the city taxpayer has more relevance than the city payroll, which in Chicago is a whole new mindset.

    On his relationship with public employee unions: We’ve put out recycling in the city to competitive bid. Waste Management is competing against city sanitation workers. Two weeks running, the streets and sanitation workers have finished two hours early and have asked for fewer trucks because they said, “I want to compete and I want to win.” When was the last time you heard public employees say, “I want to compete and win?” They used to think it was theirs by default because they showed up and wore the jersey. Now they have to win it, and to their credit, they’re going out and trying to win it. It is not in this case a non-union shop vs. a union. Both are the same unions: Teamsters and Laborers. So it’s not a question of a race to the bottom on price. It’s a better service for the taxpayers who pay the bill.

    On school reform: We have the shortest school day and shortest school year of any major city in the country, and starting next year, we have the ability to change that. The board has the ability to declare the length of day and length of year without going through collective bargaining. That was a major change. We’re starting that process early with certain schools so we can test it. All those kids are getting more reading, math, and fundamentals.

    We’re putting more emphasis on principals. They organize that building, have an esprit de corps in that building. We’ve created performance pay for principals. We’ve changed the training so that by the time my term is done, about 50% of them will be retrained or replaced.

    On his friendship with Steve Jobs: I’d known him since 1992 -- got to know him in the Clinton campaign and stayed in touch with him. I stayed at his house. When I left the Clinton White House, I went and stayed at Steve's home with the family. They were supporters. But more than that, I used to talk to Steve on a regular basis. We talked about politics, business, technology. We talked about strategies. I consider myself lucky. He had insights into the larger body politic, and I wanted to hear about them.

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