The quake-like announcement delivered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 58, last week that he would not seek re-election to a third term reverberated across the country, but West Side community leaders are still adjusting to the aftershock, according to statements and interviews conducted over the weekend.
In a statement released on Sept. 4, the day Emanuel made the announcement, Rev. Ira Acree, the pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin and co-chairman of the Leaders Network, said that he wasn’t surprised by the news.
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel announcing that he is not seeking reelection is not a big surprise to many of us who have protested and denounced his toxic policies that have hurt so many families on the West and South Sides,” the pastor, who helped organize the anti-violence march on Aug. 2 that slowed rush hour traffic along Lake Shore Drive to a halt.
“This announcement is in essence a concession that he can’t defend his abysmal record of the tale of two cities and all of the problems he has failed to fix,” Acree said of the mayor. “Plus, the upcoming Jason Van Dyke trial highlights his role in the Laquan McDonald police murder cover-up, which is politically unforgivable.”
During his two terms in office since his 2011 election, Emanuel presided over the resurgence of the city’s central business district and neighborhoods adjacent that core, such as the West Loop. But as those areas thrived, neighborhoods on the West and South Sides descended, in some respects.
Nowhere was the tale of two cities more apparent than in the disparate population trends across the city.
According to the city’s most recent census data, Austin — once the city’s largest neighborhood by square mileage and population — dropped from around 105,000 black residents to roughly 81,000 in a 15-year period.
Neighborhoods near downtown, such as the Near West Side, however, experienced a 42-percent increase in population during that 15-year time frame — most of the new residents white and well-off.
In his announcement on Sept. 4, Emanuel — who at some points during the brief press conference at City Hall teared up as he stood by his wife, Amy Rule — said that this “has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime.”
Although the mayor did not go into much detail about what prompted his decision not to run again, the mayor did say that, at “the end of the day, what matters most in public life is four more years for our children, not four more years for me.”
During a Facebook video she posted after Emanuel’s announcement, Amara Enyia — the head of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and, so far, the only prominent West Sider in the crowded race to succeed Emanuel — said that the fact that so many challengers came forward to challenge Emanuel even before he announced his decision not to run indicates that there were many people who were not satisfied with the mayor’s job performance.
“Theres a desire to see change in Chicago, that there’s a dissatisfaction and that a lot of people think that they are in a position to move the city in the right direction,” she said.
Enyia added that she her campaign wasn’t much affected by Emanuel’s announcement.
“The good thing about our campaign is, we were never the anti-campaign, so the fact that the incumbent is no longer running doesn’t really affect us very much,” she said. “We were always the ideas and solutions campaign. This just gives us even more space to share our ideas and vision for Chicago.”
None of the community leaders and residents interviewed during the opening of a satellite office for Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) were particularly sorry to see the mayor leave.
When asked about Emanuel’s decision over the weekend, Taliaferro, a member of the city council’s Progressive Caucus, was tight-lipped.
“I respect the mayor’s decision to focus on his family,” the alderman said.
Community activist Zerlina Smith, one of so far two candidates currently running against Taliaferro, was less guarded.
“I think he made the best decision possible,” she said, referencing the mayor’s exit. “I believe in term limits. We have too many career politicians who call themselves ‘kingmakers’ and our community looks the way it does.”
Steve Robinson, the executive director of the Northwest Austin Council, said that the mayor’s decision was “great” for the city, because it would allow voters to choose among candidates who might be able to put more resources into the West and South Sides.
“It’s an opportunity to see if we can actually get a change of direction as far as city policy,” he said.
Terry Roberts, who lives in Austin, said that she was glad to hear Emanuel would not be running again — he never should have run in the first place, she said.
Rosalyn Tucker, a longtime Austin activist, said that Emanuel’s decision was “a blessing” for the city.
“He hasn’t improved anything the community — only downtown,” she said. “He’s building a metropolis, just like the Daleys in the past.”