How can Chicago miss former Mayor Rahm Emanuel if he never goes away? Just kidding. We don’t miss him.
It has been breathtaking to witness Emanuel’s swift transition — from a mayor so unpopular it was a relief when he decided against seeking a third term to a television superstar, pundit and author.
Within weeks of his leaving Chicago City Hall, ABC News hired Emanuel as a contributor, and he routinely appears on the network’s morning talk shows pontificating.
He also wrote a book, “The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World,” praising the work of other city mayors and of course, himself. The book is set to be released later in February. It may require a full-time fact-checker.
Contrary to his friend George Stephanopoulos and other celebrity journalists who gush over Emanuel, Chicagoans know his tenure as mayor was punctuated by lost opportunity, not blockbuster accomplishment.
His administration and Chicago Police Department stood widely accused of covering up the October 2014 murder of a 17-year-old black kid by a white police officer who shot him 16 times on a Southwest Side street. The dashboard camera video of Laquan McDonald walking away from officers — posing no clear threat and then twisting to the ground as puffs of gun smoke curled up from his clothing — is now a haunting piece of Emanuel’s legacy.
Not until Emanuel was safely reelected in 2015, until the City Council approved a $5 million settlement for the teen’s family, until a judge forced the release of the video, until 80 minutes of nearby surveillance video went missing, until Emanuel could get his spin machine up and running, until the Cook County state’s attorney formally charged the police officer, did Emanuel finally acknowledge the city’s rightful outrage and his own vulnerability.
When the video finally was released in November 2015, it sparked weeks of protests. It led to a second-degree murder conviction for police Officer Jason Van Dyke. It shook any confidence the city could muster toward its Police Department.
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Emanuel never recovered politically.
He also had closed some 50 underused public schools, feeding a sense of abandonment in Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods.
He could not get gun violence under control as it shoved Chicago into an international spotlight of shame. And he raised property taxes to historic levels while still leaving the city’s pension funds in dire condition.
Recently, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple reported on a shake-up at The Atlantic, which had featured Emanuel as a contributing editor. Black writers and staff members objected to Emanuel’s role based on his handling of the Laquan McDonald matter.
“What is plainly true is that Mr. Emanuel used the conditions of a financial settlement with a grieving family to cover up the details of the murder of a black teenager by a white police officer. Mr. Emanuel’s conduct defiles both principles beyond recognition and is the kind of behavior that news organizations of any ideological stripe expose rather than reward,” they wrote to their editors, according to a copy of the letter obtained by Wemple.
The discussion led to a revamp of how the magazine features its contributing writers, and a decision was made that politicians should have a less prominent role on its pages.
Emanuel has strongly denied any efforts to conceal the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s death. He has maintained that he never saw the footage and relied on his police department and legal advisers who fought the video’s release while the matter was under investigation.
He points to his tenure as a stabilizing force in a city with massive financial deficits that he inherited, and which he addressed by raising taxes and expanding the city’s economy. He is credited for bringing numerous corporate headquarters to downtown Chicago and igniting a vibrant riverfront redevelopment.
But the death of Laquan McDonald and the lack of transparency that followed it should follow Emanuel.
He is available for soft television interviews and panel discussions and book signings because Chicago no longer trusted him to be mayor. He wasn’t going to win a third term, and he barely won his second.