RAHM EMANUEL is agitated. He swallows an indigestion tablet, buttons a blue cardigan, then paces his office on the 5th floor of City Hall. On February 26 th voters will select in between 14 candidates competing to change him as mayor of Chicago. How does he believe his 2 terms will be remembered? Predecessors let problems fester, he states, but “there wasn’t a single difficulty we didn’t attack”. City financial obligation, a absence of business investment, rotten schools, violence, racial segregation, corruption—all have long blighted America’s third-biggest city. “But we never walked away,” he says.
Take his boasts with a pinch of salt. When pressed on Chicago’s large, sticking around fiscal problems he is scornful, slaps your correspondent’s knee, then includes a sharp kick to his foot. “Nobody in public life resolves anything. They enhance it. If you’re here to fix it, call me,” he states.
Mr Emanuel diminished the city’s structural deficit by hundreds of millions of dollars by cutting spending and increasing taxes. He has likewise been susceptible to raising new debt to pay off old, a bad routine known locally as “scoop and toss”. But Chicago’s financial resources never ever degraded as much as, state, Detroit’s, due to the fact that the city’s economic engine kept whirring.
David Axelrod, an ally from when both men worked for Barack Obama, praises the mayor as energetic, like a heat-seeking rocket. “He is a fantastic guy, for all his quirks,” he states. In particular, Mr Axelrod appreciates him for dealing with the city’s massive fiscal problems. Credit-rating companies have grown more optimistic about Chicago, after listing its bonds as scrap. But the city’s long-term financial health is still doubtful. Ed Bachrach, co-author of a new book on Chicago, says general city financial obligation rose from $7.5 bn to $9.7 bn in seven years to 2017. Worse is a gigantic, unfunded liability of some $40bn for pensions of city workers. Even Mr Emanuel admits he just “stopped the bleeding”.
The wider economy is doing well, though the city can seem cut off from the rest of Chicagoland, as the cluster of suburban cities around Chicago is understood. Disputes sometimes flare, as when Chicago political leaders talk of expanding city limitations around O’Hare airport. Some mayors strive to co-operate with their rural neighbours to get things done—John Hickenlooper, who ran Denver in between 2003 and 2011, was a great example. Mr Emanuel has preferred remote horizons, branding his as a “global city”. A two-decade-old Chicagoland “Mayors’ Caucus” does bit.
At least Chicago’s 2.7 m population is steady after years of decrease. Its unemployed rate is just 4% and poverty is falling. Last year almost 58 m tourists came for theatre, funny, sports and museums. New strolling and cycle tracks have actually been built by the river and lake. By one procedure O’Hare once again declares to be America’s busiest airport. It is set for a $12bn expansion.
Mr Emanuel prodded companies such as McDonald’s to bring their headquarters to Chicago. The metropolitan area draws more foreign direct investment projects than any in America and is behind only London, Paris, Singapore and Amsterdam worldwide. Manufacturing, which still utilizes 9% of workers, is remarkably strong. Ford revealed on February 7 th that it would add 500 tasks to a factory in the city.
Chicago’s school system used to be a nationwide joke. It was long controlled by intransigent teachers’ unions and practically went bust. At last that is changing. Longer school days, shorter vacations and the belated intro of universal pre-school mean that kids invest more time studying. Mr Emanuel declares the average child will gain the comparable of an extra four years in school as a result.
The mayor likewise closed 48 underused schools in bad, depopulating neighbourhoods. He is defensive about that, admitting it was “tough on them, on families, on me politically”. Black locals, almost the just ones impacted, turned on him; Mr Axelrod says he needs to have found a way to soften the blow in already suffering districts. However the decision made sense, offered a economically strained school system with capability for 550,000 but only 360,000 kids registered.
As crucial, head teachers got more autonomy and included courses for high achievers—38,000 children are registered in International Baccalaureate programmes. Results are enhancing. More students finish: a pitiful 56% finished 7 years ago, whereas 78% do so now. The head of city schools, Janice Jackson, states that “for the very first time there is a detailed push” to get everyone to complete high school.
If Mr Emanuel thinks everything has actually gone so well, why did he back out of his well-funded quote for a 3rd term last September? He says he was detered by seeing surveys that indicated he could win. Had they suggested the opposite, the ultra-competitive politician declares he would have actually relished the challenge, “because that’s the weird psychology of a middle Jewish kid”. Instead the 59- year-old will write a book, earn loan someplace and plot an ultimate return to public life.
More most likely, he understood he dealt with a harsh campaign. In 2015 he was just narrowly re-elected. Black citizens, one-third of the electorate, used to assistance him, but lots of resent the school closures and the persistence of violence and poverty in their districts. Chicago has failed to match the success of New York and Los Angeles in cutting murder rates dramatically (see chart).
The police chief, Eddie Johnson, applauds a surge of 1,000 brand-new officers and other efforts, like the “Becoming a Male” programme to prevent 7,500 school pupils from being drawn into gangs. But lots of think the mayor has failed terribly on criminal offense. Mr Emanuel is refused especially for a delay in the release of authorities video of a policeman shooting Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, 16 times in 2014.
After the video at last emerged in November 2015, violence skyrocketed and Mr Emanuel’s opportunities of re-election dropped. The police officer involved was recently discovered guilty, the first murder conviction of a serving officer in years. That trial, under way as the project started, would have overwhelmed Mr Emanuel’s message. The mayor stated he would not run the day prior to it began.
What are Chicago’s potential customers after him? Mayors typically are “larger than life and embody the energy” of a mighty city centre, states Mr Axelrod. That barely appears true of the people completing to succeed Mr Emanuel. Only Expense Daley, a stolid man who is the kid and bro of 2 other long-serving mayors, may be identified outdoors the Windy City. He is backed by abundant donors who hope he will extend Chicago’s financial recovery. He may handle that, however he’s no missile.