In one of his final speeches as mayor, Rahm Emanuel reflected on the highs and lows of his eight-year tenure in an address to the City Club of Chicago.
In less than three weeks, Emanuel will hand the reins of the city over to Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, who will be sworn into office on May 20.
As he prepares for that day, there were laughs and tears as the mayor offered his take on all that’s changed in the past eight years, and what it’s been like to manage the nation’s third-largest city.
The mayor readily admits he can’t change his impatient style, and he thinks that’s a good thing, as he believes it gave him an advantage in taking over a city that he said was facing a “crisis of confidence.”
“We got our game back. We got the spring in our step,” he said. “We don’t doubt ourselves anymore, and more importantly, we don’t doubt the kids of the city of Chicago to set records.”
Emanuel said that he believes that his primary legacy will be in improving public education, citing higher test scores and instituting longer school days.
While critics point to the mayor’s controversial decision to close 49 public schools early in his tenure as evidence that he perhaps isn’t as successful as he believes he is, Emanuel dismissed those arguments in his speech.
The mayor also touted the work he did in improving the downtown area, defending his focus on the Loop as integral to the city’s success as a whole.
“I’m proud that we have a thriving, successful central business district that gives us the revenue to fund 14-to-33,000 kids in summer jobs,” he said.
The mayor also shared what were the emotional lows of his time in office, discussing his meetings with families of those killed by gun violence, including police officers and victims like Hadiya Pendleton.
“The lowest moments redeem your sense of humanity in people, and your faith in humanity, when sometimes humanity can really constantly disappoint you,” he said.
For now, the mayor will focus on finishing out his term in office before transitioning to a new role: that of author. Emanuel is finished with a draft of a new book, and one of his first priorities upon leaving office will be to get the manuscript published.