Does Mayor Emanuel Understand Chicago?

How well does Mayor Rahm Emanuel understand the city he governs? I ask that because one of my strongest reservations about his candidacy -- that he seemed more a product of the North Shore and Washington than of Chicago -- may have something to do with his inability to control this city’s violence.

Let’s look at the Emanuel bio.

    1959-1970: Emanuel spends his early years in Uptown.
    1970-1978: Emanuel’s family moves to Wilmette, where Emanuel graduates from New Trier West High School.
    1978-1982: Emanuel attends Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.
    1982-1984: Emanuel works for the Illinois Public Action Council; lives in Lakeview
    1984-1989: Goes to Washington to join the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where he advises on Midwestern races and becomes national campaign director.
    1989-1991: Returns to Chicago, to raise money for mayoral candidate Richard M. Daley and Sen. Paul Simon.
    1991-1998: Works on the campaign, and later in the White House of, Bill Clinton.
    1998-2002: Becomes managing director of Wasserstein Perella’s Chicago office; buys a house in Ravenswood; runs for Congress.
    2003-2009: Returns to Washington as a congressman.
    2009-2010: Serves as White House chief of staff.
    2011-present: Mayor of Chicago.

I’m figuring that before he was elected mayor, Emanuel spent seven-and-a-half years of his adult life living and working in Chicago: two as a young political activist, two as a political fundraiser, two-a-half as an investment banker and one as a candidate for Congress. And he did it all while living in fashionable North Side neighborhoods.

This is not a man who knows the streets of Chicago. Emanuel may have made a D.C. mistake when he brought Garry McCarthy in from Newark to serve as chief of police. McCarthy may be the smartest cop in America. He may give the best Power Point presentation about how his use of CompStat statistics cut the number of murders in New York to its lowest levels since the 1960s. That technocratic image goes a long way in Washington. But McCarthy doesn’t understand Chicago gangs.

Ald. Anthony Beale, whose 9th Ward has seen its death toll double this year, told the Tribune, “These strategies are New York strategies -- not Chicago strategies -- and they are not working.”

No one doubted that Mayor Richard M. Daley understood Chicago, or its gangs. The Daley dynasty began because Daley’s father was a prominent member of a Bridgeport street gang, the Hamburg Athletic Club. Except for a few years away at school in Rhode Island, Daley lived his entire life in Chicago. It’s hard to imagine him functioning anywhere else. It’s easy to imagine Emanuel in the White House, on Wall Street, or in Hollywood. But that doesn’t mean he can make it here in Chicago. 

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