Through a public information request, the Chicago Tribune obtained Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s daily calendar between January and August of 2012. The Tribune’s focus on the hundreds of pages of documents is almost identical to the Chicago Reader, which did a two-part review of Emanuel’s public schedule between January and November of 2011. In a nutshell, the publications noted that Emanuel meets a lot with business leaders.
Emanuel’s ties with business are important given his policy record of ramming the Infrastructure Trust through city council in April, a nebulous effort to use private money for public projects, and expanding his own role as chairman of World Business Chicago, which coordinated the NATO summit in May.
But perusing through the calendar, available on the Tribune Web site, reveals other elements of Emanuel’s tenure including his national profile and approach to the Chicago Teachers Union labor dispute.
Emanuel has remained a national figure after almost 20 years of working in Washington, including almost two years as chief of staff for President Barack Obama. The mayor is arguably more of a national presence than his predecessor, Richard M. Daley.
Between January and August, Emanuel held multiple meetings with Obama cabinet members including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He has also spent hours at a time with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
While Emanuel schedules sit-down meetings and telephone interviews with local reporters from outlets such as the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business, the majority of his pre-scheduled press talks are with national publications.
For example, the first scheduled interviews Emanuel granted after a special city council meeting to pass the Infrastructure Trust on April 24 were with Gabe Sherman of New York Magazine and Sheelah Kohlhatkar of Bloomberg Businessweek.
“In general, Daley had fewer meetings with national businessman and his contacts with the national and international press were more limited,” says Dick Simpson, chair of the University of Illinois-Chicago political science department and a former alderman.
Simpson adds that Emanuel has significantly more interactions with the Obama administration than Daley did with, for example, the Bill Clinton administration.
There is nothing inherently wrong with casting a national or even international profile, which Emanuel did during the NATO summit. But it might come at the expense of meeting with local officials.
Emanuel almost never meets individually with aldermen, save for five that join him in his office prior to city council meetings, Alds. Michelle Harris (8th), Ed Burke (14th), Ray Saurez (31st), Carrie Austin (34th), and Patrick O’Connor (40th).
He rarely meets with Cook County officials or leaders in Springfield. The Tribune plays up the mayor’s several meetings with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), but Cullerton is clearly the exception to the rule.
Beyond Cullerton and two meetings with the Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), the mayor has not met with other key Springfield legislators, the mostly anonymous figures who nonetheless shape education, taxes and other policies for Chicago.
For example, a meeting with State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Chicago), the assistant Senate majority leader and architect of a landmark education law in 2011, was listed as “pending the events of the day” for May 19, the first day of the NATO summit. A meeting, though, that day with Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, was a definite go. There is no other record of Emanuel meeting with Lightford this year.
The public calendar gives a bit of an indication to Emanuel’s overall approach to education issues.
As the eventual September teacher’s strike increasingly became a possibility this summer, Emanuel ratcheted up his “Education Update” meetings to the point where he was having 2 to 3 such meetings a week during August. But the education meetings consisted of Emanuel senior staff members such as Beth Swanson, deputy chief of staff for education to the mayor.
CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, who resigned last month, and other CPS officials were only occasionally included. Community stakeholders, such as parent and neighborhood activist groups, were additionally not consulted. “Emanuel isn’t about inviting citizens in choosing priorities,” Simpson says.
Also left out: Chicago Teachers Union officials.
Emanuel had an infamous meeting with CTU President Karen Lewis in August of 2011 where Lewis says that Emanuel swore at her. There is no record of Emanuel meeting with Lewis or anyone else from the teachers' union since, despite the fact that the union’s first strike in 25 years had been anticipated for months. Messages to CTU today were not returned.
However, Emanuel did meet with the national leader of the teachers union. His calendar shows a June 8 meeting with Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union of CTU.