Rahm Emanuel, Mayor One Percent

Kathleen Geier   April 29, 2014

In Chicago this past weekend, a tragic story made headlines. A thirty-two-year-old anti-violence advocate named Leonore Draper was shot and killed while returning home from an anti-violence charity event. Police say that Draper was a victim of gang crossfire. The Leonore Draper killing no doubt made the news because of the cruelly ironic circumstances of her death. But sadly, drive-by shootings of the kind to which she fell victim are all too common in Chicago. The city is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence that has devastated Chicago’s communities of color.

A story of a different sort also made headlines in Chicago last weekend. In a blockbuster investigative piece, the Chicago Tribune’s Bill Ruthhart pored over more than 700 emails that document how CNN worked hand-in-glove with the staff of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to produce a shameless piece of pro-Rahm piece of propaganda called Chicagoland, a recently concluded eight-part documentary series. Ruthhart reports that mayor’s office and the show’s production team worked together “to develop storylines, arrange specific camera shots and review news releases officially announcing the show.”

Check out the fawning email one of the CNN weasels sent to Emanuel’s people, begging for more access:

“Right now, we’re not doing justice to the Mayor’s real bold leadership style, ambitions and policies,” [executive producer Marc] Levin wrote. “I know we still have time to round out the Mayor’s story and present him as the star that he really is.”

As a result of this close collaboration, Chicagoland presented a grotesquely biased portrayal of Emanuel’s policies and their impact on the city. For example, here’s how the show depicted his unpopular decision to close fifty-one Chicago schools, according to the Tribune:

On the day when the school board held its final vote, “Chicagoland” focused on parents and students objecting to the closings at two schools—Manierre and Garvey elementary schools.

The schools were two of four spared in the final hour before the vote, and “Chicagoland” shows footage of tearful Manierre parents rejoicing outside CPS headquarters and a Garvey student celebrating by dancing. While 53 schools were on the chopping block, the documentary crew ended up following two that were saved. Asked how that happened, Levin said he and fellow producers have asked themselves the same question.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Levin said. “But we did go, ‘Wow. That is unusual.’”

It’s not like critics didn’t notice the failings of Chicagoland at the time. Long-time Chicago political observer Don Rose wrote in the Chicago Daily Observer that “much footage” of the show was “virtually serving as a re-election commercial.” More importantly, CNN’s Chicagoland is hardly the first time that national media have abandoned any semblance of journalistic integrity to give Rahm Emanuel a tongue bath. He’s been the subject of gushing profiles in venues like The Atlantic and Time magazine. National newspapers like the New York Times have run stories about his policy initiatives that read like press releases. A few national stories have been critical, but they are exceptions.

Local media, however, has been another story. Coverage of Emanuel in the local alternative press, local blogs, and even, frequently enough, mainstream media outlets like the Tribune has been admirably tough. That’s because, under this mayor’s rule, the city has been falling apart.

Emanuel

“Heyyy there.” / Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil

Emanuel has slashed the city budget and is calling for major cuts to pensions for public employees—while a city slush fund totaling hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars gets poured into useless development projects that reward political donors. He closed fifty-one schools in communities of color while proposing that the city hand over $100 million to DePaul University for a new basketball arena. The implementation of a new transit card system was a disaster. The cards, which are issued by a private contractor, include hidden fees that rip off users; they also initially didn’t even work, causing transit delays and angry commuters.

The mayor’s needlessly confrontational style also led to the Chicago Teachers Union strike—a strike which easily could have been avoided, and which ended up handing him a major political defeat when the strike ended with the teachers winning most of their demands. And then there’s Chicago’s general culture of corruption, which continues unabated under his rule. Emanuel’s promises to make his administration more “transparent” have turned out to be nothing more than punch lines to a bad joke.

All of which brings us to two of the biggest problems that plague the city. One is unemployment. Chicago’s unemployment rate has been stuck in double-digit territory throughout Emanuel’s mayoralty (currently it’s at 9.9 percent). It’s true that the mayor has little control over the economy, so perhaps it’s unfair to attribute blame to Emanuel for Chicago’s high joblessness rate. But his embrace of austerity economics has, in fact, directly led to job loss. The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg recently reported on “The Rise of the Progressive City,” citing examples of populist economist policies being enacted in cities like New York, Atlanta, Seattle, and San Francisco. Chicago is a liberal, union-friendly city in a blue state, but it is heading in the opposite direction.

Gun violence is the other major issue plaguing the city. The problem of violent crime in Chicago has attracted less attention of late, largely because many people believe that the crime rate has dramatically declined. However, as Chicago magazine’s David Bernstein and Noah Isackson reported earlier this month in a stellar piece of investigative journalism, that is not exactly the case. What actually has been going is that Emanuel and company have been essentially cooking the books.

The statistical manipulations are the cover-up, but the real crime is the conditions that created Chicago’s plague of violence in the first place. The Chicago Reporter’s Curtis Black has pointed out that the city’s high murder rate—which is rooted in gang violence committed by the economically disenfranchised—has its roots in the neoliberal economic policies Emanuel has ardently supported throughout his career, such as NAFTA and welfare reform. Black notes that Cook County lost 90,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010, more than any county in America except Los Angeles. Black also points out that Emanuel has also been a lifelong supporter of the “war on drugs” and the tough-on-crime policies that have led to devastating economic outcomes for many men of color.

Many politicians supported those policies when they were fashionable in the 1990s, but have since changed with the times. But not Rahm Emanuel. One gets the strong impression of a man cryogenically frozen in the year 1995, a man who hasn’t learned a thing since. Take, for example, his recent Washington Post op-ed, which opposes universal pre-K (“Universal mediocrity cannot be our goal,” he writes). Or read this recent Financial Times interview with the man, in which—I kid you not—he blathers on about the virtues of “midnight basketball.”

Most tellingly of all, consider the fact that literally one of his best buddies—a man he vacations with, in fact—is Illinois’s Republican gubernatorial candidate and centimillionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, a Scott Walker type who’s running on a platform of making Illinois a right-to-work state. (Rauner charmingly refers to AFSCME, the public employee union, as “Af-scam-ee.”)

They don’t call Rahm Emanuel “Mayor One Percent” for nothing.

Kathleen Geier is a Chicago-based writer and researcher. She blogs at Inequality Matters and has written for The Washington Monthly, The Nation, Salon, and other publications. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee.

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