Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago

One of the most successful big cities in America is Chicago, Illinois. One need only drive down Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive and see the skyline. It has one of the most beautiful skylines in the world. And it keeps changing because developers keep adding beautiful skyscrapers to it.

There are many other things about this city that make it an attractive place to live for people of any ethnicity including – and perhaps especially - Orthodox Jews despite its legendary bad winter weather.

Chicago has maintained its vibrancy where other big cities have failed. There is a reason for that. It did not happen by itself. Chicago has had leadership that truly cared about the city more than they cared about their own personal enrichment or aggrandizement. When I moved to Chicago as a teenager in 1962 there was a Daley at the helm. His lengthy tenure and success at keeping Chicago a world class city did not go unnoticed. At a time where other cities were becoming decayed Chicago was being built. Mayor Richard J. Daley (the current mayor’s father) made sure of that. He loved this city and it showed. It earned him accolades all over the world. Despite his many political enemies and the corruption that surrounded him, he remained honest and untouched by scandal. Time Magazine dubbed Chicago ‘The city that works!’ under his tenure rightly attributing its success to him.

The current mayor, Richard M. Daley has the same love for the city his father did. He just surpassed his father’s tenure and is Chicago’s longest serving mayor. He has added quite beautifully to his father’s legacy by developing it even more. And by giving incentives for movie and TV producers to choose Chicago as a backdrop for many of its productions – he has succeeded in showcasing it to the world.

Of course any long term mayor will make some mistakes along the way. Mayor Daley had his share. But on the whole he has truly been a great mayor. His friendship to the Chicago Jewish community is real. It has been demonstrated time and again - as recently last week. More about that later. I will miss him. He as has my sincere gratitude.

During these difficult economic times Chicago needs a mayor that will be able to carry on this success. There are currently four candidates running for his office. With the exception of Carol Mosley Brown, they are all very capable.

There are two that stand out in my view. Either of them would make a great mayor. Based on my personal perceptions during the campaign Gery Chico is clearly a man who could do the job. He is quite brilliant and has served with distinction in every office he held, including as Mayor Daley’s chief of staff. He had input on many of Mayor Daley’s successful decisions. He earned national accolades for turning Chicago’s public schools around from the worst in the country to one of the best during his leadership tenure there. I would vote for him in a heartbeat under any other circumstances.

It should be noted that Gery Chico though not himself Jewish has three Jewish daughters by his Jewish ex wife. They were lovingly raised as Jews. This information came out when one of Chico’s union supporters recently called Emanuel a Judas – betraying American workers by supporting NAFTA under Bill Clinton.

Many saw this as a veiled ethnic slur. Chico did not see it that way when asked to repudiate that reference. Mayor Daley to his everlasting credit blew up when he was asked by reporters whether he thought Chico should repudiate it. The mayor angrily responded by saying, ‘Of course he should repudiate it!’. It was anti-Semitic in tone. He explained that no other supporter of NAFTA had ever been accused by any union leader of being a Judas accept Emanuel by this one union leader. Chico then responded by saying that the mayor knows that he is not anti Semitic because he was invited to attend his own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

Chico’s friendship to the Jewish community was demonstrated early in his career when he was president of the Chicago Board of Education. He helped Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov buy the building it had been leasing for many years from the Chicago Public Schools – an almost impossible task at the time since a local public school needed that building because of over-crowding. With the support of Mayor Daley, Chico solved the problem by getting approval from the building commission to construct a state of the art addition to the school that needed it. That freed up the building Hanna Sacks had for years been leasing to be sold to them. We owe him our eternal gratitude for that. He is definitely a man who can get things done.

But even though supporting Gery Chico might ordinarily be a no-brainer that is not the case now. He has a formidable opponent that in my view will be an even more effective mayor. That man is Rahm Emanuel.

Judging by their performance during the campaign, Chico seems like the better candidate. But knowing Emanuel’s behind the scenes capabilities has made me lean in favor of him.

There is a reason Emanuel was chosen to serve his country by two Presidents. His reputation of effectiveness has world renown. He is a pit-bull behind the scenes and knows how to get things done. His connections to Washington will not hurt Chicago either. How many mayors can say they have had the kind of working relationship with the President of the United States that he has? If a city needs clout with Washington to get what it needs, he is someone who has it. Emanuel has been endorsed by both Chicago newspapers and many other Chicago institutions.

All the polls have Emanuel leading his opponents by a huge margin. In a field of four candidates many believe that he will even get the 50% plus needed to win. Less than that will force a run off by the two biggest vote getters.

He has the support of many of Chicago’s black citizens as well, despite the fact that a former US senator who is black is one of his opponents. He also has the majority of the Jewish vote. What he does not have is the Orthodox Jewish vote.

Unfortunately his association with the Obama administration’s hard-line approach to Israel has tainted him in their eyes. In some cases the mere mention of Emanuel’s name begets angry – sometimes even hostile responses from many of my friends.

I do not see Emanuel the way they do. He served at the pleasure of the President. When he spoke on any issue he reflected the President’s view. To blame Emanuel for the President’s approach is unfair. But even if he agrees with it, that does not mean he is anti Israel anymore than it makes me anti Israel because in theory (if not in practice) I support land for peace.

He is a man who loves Israel and served with the IDF as a volunteer during the first Gulf War. He attended a Conservative religious day school and although not personally Orthodox, is currently a member of an Orthodox Shul. That he had his son’s Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel even while he was part of the Obama administration is a clear indication of where his sympathies really lie. This is not the profile of someone who is anti Israel.

To many Chicago voters this may all be irrelevant. But it is important to me because even though he is running for mayor of Chicago and not Tel Aviv I do not want a leader of the city where I live (or any other major American city) to be anti-Semite – Jewish or otherwise!

Factoring all this into the equation, I have decided to support Rahm Emnauel for Mayor of Chicago. The polls will be open this Tuesday.