Obama bypasses Congress and talks to mayors about economic policies

President Obama talked to big city mayors yesterday in efforts to work outside of Congress:

White House aides say the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting was an ideal opportunity to press the president’s agenda with a more sympathetic audience. White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters before the speech that it was a chance to move “forward on priorities helping the middle class despite inaction in Congress.”

The president urged mayors to raise the minimum wage, guarantee paid sick leave, and expand childcare and pre-kindergarten education — all issues with little traction among congressional Republicans…

Since Obama called for an increase to the minimum wage in 2013, 17 states and the District of Columbia have passed raises. Large retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc, IKEA, and Gap Inc. have also pledged to increase the lowest hourly wage for their employees.

This could be viewed as a political ploy to shame Congress or subvert the typical process by which Washington works. In contrast, Obama’s strategy works with one of the standard lines about big-city mayors: they can’t be as partisan as legislators or those in the executive branch because they have to attend to more practical details on a regular basis. In other words, they have to make sure their cities work and can’t afford to get bogged down in ideological standoffs. (Interestingly, I heard this again recently at a conference in Chicago and there was some open laughter.)

That said, economic issues would certainly matter to many mayors as they need jobs for citizens as well as the economic benefits that come with jobs and economic growth (increased population, more tax revenues, increased prestige, etc.). Of course, there is disagreement about how to best do this. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel presents some of these contrasts. Is he pro-Walmart? He certainly seems to like attracting big corporations and tech start-ups. Is he truly interested in economic development in poorer neighborhoods? How much influence do wealthy businesspeople have in Chicago? He was behind raising the minimum wage in Chicago. Can he be considered non-partisan?

Whether Congress acts or not, cities and metropolitan regions are large economic engines and their leaders do have some latitude in policies that could encourage or discourage economic growth.

Odd poll: Rahm Emanuel more negatively rated than Eisenhower traffic

One challenger to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel used some dubious questions to find how the mayor ranks compared to other disliked things:

The poll, with questions tailor-made to grab headlines, was paid for by Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and conducted Sept. 26-29 by Washington D.C.-based Hamilton Campaigns…

Fioretti’s pollster was apparently looking to put a new twist on the issue by testing the mayor’s unfavorable ratings against some high-profile enemies, including the Bears’ archrival Green Bay Packers.

Of the 500 likely Chicago voters surveyed, 23 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” opinion of Emanuel and 28 percent had a “very unfavorable” view of the mayor.

That’s an overall negative rating of 51 percent, compared to 49 percent overall for morning traffic on the Eisenhower. Conservative-leaning Fox News Channel had a slightly higher unfavorable rating in Democratic-dominated Chicago while the Packers stood at 59 percent.

Odd comparisons of apples to oranges. As the article notes, it sounds like a publicity stunt – which appears to work because the article then goes on to give Fioretti more space. Giving space to bad statistics is not a good thing in the long run with a public (and media) that suffers from innumeracy.

Two thoughts:

1. I could imagine where this might go if Emanuel or others commission similar polls. How about: “Chicago’s Mayor is more favorably rated than Ebola”?

2. How did the Packers only get a negative rating of 59% in Chicago? Are there that many transplanted Wisconsin residents or are Chicago residents not that adamant about their primary football rival?

Financially troubled Chicago has to pay out more to reimburse drivers for pothole damage

Chicago doesn’t have much money these days but it will have even less after reimbursing drivers for potholes:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has ordered the Chicago Department of Transportation to assign all 30 of its pothole crews to main streets on Mondays and Fridays to address scores of potholes in blitzkrieg fashion using a grid system.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last month that the cash-strapped city has been hit with a blizzard of damage to vehicle claims thanks to a relentless barrage of snow, cold and wild temperature swings that has turned city streets into the surface of the moon.

Since the New Year’s Eve storm that buried Chicago in 23 inches of snow before a record-setting cold snap, CDOT crews have filled roughly 240,000 potholes…

At last week’s City Council meeting alone, there were 543 pothole claims introduced, nearly double the 280 claims introduced last month. During the March City Council meeting last year, there were just 61 pothole claims introduced.

Between paying more to patch potholes plus pay out claims, the cold and snowing weather is costing Chicago more money. It’s too bad this story doesn’t have any monetary figures about the pothole claims. Plus, how much is budgeted each year to pay out these claims and what happens if there is an outlier year (like this year)? Mayor Emanuel is quoted in this story saying this is why the city is trying to pave more streets during warmer months – indeed, constructing streets in certain ways in the first place and maintaining them adequately will cut down on pothole problems down the road. In this case, paying more upfront for the infrastructure of good roads in Chicago could save the city money later.

File Chicago pothole claims here.

Does Chicago gain anything by Jimmy Fallon taking a polar plunge in Lake Michigan?

New Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon was in Chicago this past weekend participating in a polar plunge. Does Chicago gain anything by this?

Fallon detailed his experience at Chicago’s Polar Plunge during Monday night’s show, a day after he dipped into icy Lake Michigan.

“I’m never doing that again,” Fallon said.

Fallon said Chicago “didn’t let me fool around” when it came to taking up Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s challenge to take the plunge, which benefits Special Olympics Chicago. The event drew a record number of people.

“I go in, and I hear you’re only supposed to go up to your knees,” he said, recalling running into the lake. “I just plunged back, I went under and a couple bubbles came out and I froze. I just stand up and I took my hat off and my hair turned to icicles, and I heard bagpipes. This is how I went. I thought this was it, I thought it was the end.”

Fallon also shared a gift he received from Emanuel, which declares March 2014 “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Month” in Chicago.

The biggest winner here appears to be the Special Olympics since people donate to participate. Plus, Rahm Emanuel participated because kids read over 2 million books for a Chicago Public Library summer program – reading is good.

But, wasn’t this primarily a publicity stunt for Emanuel as well as Fallon? Emanuel wins by being an active mayor. As Fallon notes in his retelling and shows in a picture, Rahm looks pretty good coming out of the water. Events like this burnish his image as a mayor who gets things done (past Chicago mayors have made similar claims). He helps kids read and cares about others. It doesn’t hurt that a new CNN show “Chicagoland” features him as mayor. Fallon is a new host, replacing Jay Leno. While he takes time out of his schedule to come to Chicago, it is good publicity as he is involved with a charitable cause and is getting out of the New York/Los Angeles bubble that all late night TV shows live in. Maybe the clincher here is Emanuel giving Fallon a resolution saying March is “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Month in Chicago.” Does this mean much of anything?

I’m not sure this all contributes much to Chicago. It suggests some people are willing to donate to Special Olympics – they had over 3,200 participants this year, no doubt boosted by Emanuel and Fallon’s presence. Chicago is a charitable city or a star-struck city? The polar plunge highlights the weather in Chicago, particularly in a season nearing record ice cover on Lake Michigan. On the whole, Chicagoans like to put on an exterior of tough people who can survive the weather, particularly when interacting with people from other places, but there is plenty of grumbling. But, is a polar plunge likely to bring in new tourists or help companies decide to move to Chicago?

(I realize this might be a grumpy take on a lighthearted event with some human interest appeal. However, this event got a lot of attention beforehand and afterwards and I wanted to think about how Chicago makes out in the whole situation.)

Chicago’s race and class differences on display in fight over Obama Library

Six groups are vying for the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago:

The library is “such a prize that nobody is going to yield power to anybody else,” veteran Chicago political analyst Don Rose said.The squabble also puts Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, in the difficult position of trying to present a single, unified bid, lest the feuding weaken the city’s odds against rival campaigns to put the library in New York or Hawaii…

The main point of tension is between the University of Chicago, where Obama spent 12 years as a constitutional law professor until his 2004 election to the U.S. Senate, and a group advocating for Bronzeville, the city’s historic center of black culture, business and politics.

“They think that they can get whatever they want,” Bronzeville organizer Harold Lucas said of the university. “If you compare the cranes in the sky and that opulent growth of this university to the surrounding, predominantly African-American community, it’s a travesty. It’s a clear tale of two cities.”…

There are also two potential bids on the Far South Side, one led by Chicago State University and the other by a group promoting the historic Pullman neighborhood. It was in those areas that Obama established his earliest roots in the city as a community organizer in the mid-1980s, setting up job training programs and defending the rights of public housing tenants.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, on the Near West Side, is also taking a shot, as is a real estate developer pushing the former U.S. Steel Corp. site on the southeast lakefront.

Lots of interested actors and a number of them could make a good case that the library would help economic development – even the University of Chicago says their plan would be to build the library off-campus so it would help a neighborhood. This seems like a classic situation for some backroom deals and a growth machine perspective where those with more political and business power will end up calling the shots.

Is this a true test of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s abilities as a mayor? It will be interesting to see how he moves among all of these options.

CNN’s Chicagoland reality series featuring Rahm Emanuel premieres at Sundance

Here is some activity regarding the upcoming Chicagoland series on CNN:

The William Morris Endeavor clients decided to ask that their agency not represent them in the deal so as to avoid a conflict of interest when covering Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, brother of WME co-CEO Ari Emanuel. The agency agreed with the decision…

The filmmakers tell The Hollywood Reporter that the project is an evenhanded look at the mayor and the city, which was rocked by a bitter teacher’s strike and has grappled with a high murder rate. “The teacher’s union thought we were with Rahm, and Rahm thought we were the teacher’s union,” Benjamin says.

The pair gained extraordinary access to Rahm Emanuel, which was facilitated by David Axelrod, the Chicago-based former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama. Rahm was Obama’s first chief of staff and helped him get elected in 2008. Ari was instrumental in mobilizing the Hollywood donor community to back Obama.

Levin and Benjamin shot footage over an eight-month period in which the murder rate did go down, but they say they were prepared to cover the city’s story however it unfolded. “We expect criticism,” says Levin. “So long as it’s from all sides, we’ll be happy. If someone says we’re too kind or too critical to one side, that wouldn’t be good.”

In a series like this, I imagine there will be plenty of unhappy viewers. Regardless, it should be interesting to see how Chicago and its mayor are portrayed. City effectively responding to 21st century challenges or superactive mayor needed to help a city escape its own troubles? Additionally, I think it will be difficult to convey the complexity of a global city like Chicago in eight episodes and by focusing on its leader. Leaders are important but they don’t dictate everything happening in a city of nearly 3 million people.

New eight-part CNN documentary series on Chicagoland

CNN ordered a new series directed by Robert Redford that looks at Chicago:

In Chicagoland, executive producers Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn team with Brick City filmmakers Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin in an eight-part series about “a city generating change and innovation in social policy, education, and public safety – to meet national and local challenges.”

According to CNN’s release, Chicagoland will capture “the riveting, real-life drama of a city looking to unite at this critical moment in the city’s history. In the aftermath of a countrywide economic collapse, Chicago faces the challenges of improving its public education system, and neighborhood and youth safety. Can the city’s leaders, communities, and residents come together in ways that expand opportunities and allow aspirations to be realized?”

In a statement, Redford praised Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel: “The vibrant culture and opportunities inherent in this 21st century, world-class city run alongside profound daily challenges. Much of it falls on the shoulders of its tough, visionary mayor, his team and people doing heroic work in neighborhoods throughout the city. Chicago has always had a rhythm all its own. It’s a city that wears its heart on its sleeve and I am honored to be a part of telling this story.”

“Chicago is the quintessential American city and where it goes tells us a lot about where our country is going,” added series producer Levin.

Some quick thoughts:

1. Generally, the term “Chicagoland” is used to refer to the entire metropolitan region of over 9 million people, not just the city of Chicago. But, it sounds like the series is primarily about the city. It would be interesting if there was some focus on the region as a whole…

2. The last quote from the producer fits with a common image of Chicago: Chicago is a truly American city with the possible strengths and weaknesses that come as being part of the United States as well as being located more in the center of the country. Chicago has had this image for at least a century now and it sounds like the documentary will continue this idea.

3. I wonder how laudatory or critical the documentary will be. How much criticism or praise will local politicians receive? How much of the documentary will talk about positive aspects of the city/region versus the present challenges?

4. Connected to #3, will the documentary be more like the recent biting book review in the New York Times or sounds more like Chicago boosters?