Mayor Emanuel reflects on 8 years at City Hall: ‘Kept my word, told hard truths and did hard things’

CHICAGO — Before he leaves office next week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel reflected on his eight years at City Hall.

Emanuel invited WGN to his office at City Hall for a look back.

He said he is most proud of his education record.

Under Emanuel, CPS extended the school day, expanded early childhood education, and increased graduation and college acceptance rates.

“You have to start earlier and go longer … kindergarten through 12th doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “I believe students drop out of college in 4th grade, which means you have to start the education (early), which is why we made Pre-K, full-day for every child regardless of zip code. And added an hour and fifteen minutes to every day.”

Critics see a more nuanced record. Emanuel closed 50 schools, most in African American neighborhoods and his feud with the Chicago Teachers Union lead to a teacher strike.

“Did I ruffle feathers? Make no bones about it, I did because we had tried the nice approach and our kids kept getting the short end of the stick with the nice approach,” he said. “Everybody else got what they wanted except for the kids. … Sometimes when you do the hard things feelings get hurt.”

On city finances, Emanuel said he left Chicago better than he found it.

“The whole goal from Day 1 I said was get the economy moving, get jobs back it the city, get companies moving because when you’re growing, all the problems become easier to solve,” he said.

One issue that won’t be easy to solve: city pensions. Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot said the crisis is worse than people think.

“It’s much more substantial than I think has been socialized,” she said.

“I don’t know why (she said that),” Emanuel said. “I didn’t solve them. I said that. I stabilized them. … The pensions given the 30 to 40 years of mismanagement - I wasn’t going to solve it in eight years, but it is no longer a flashing red light.”

Asked about Lightfoot’s battle with City Council over aldermanic privilege, Emanuel was careful not to weigh in.

“Everybody makes their decisions,” he said.

On the moment that changed everything for Emanuel, the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, the alleged cover-up, and subsequent police reform,

WGN News asked how the mayor thinks he should be remembered.

“We fixed what in 100 years had not been tried,” he said. “Seven attempts at police reform in Chicago. But we dealt with it upfront, addressed the problem. We into the City Council even referred a monitor who showed up we made a serious of reforms because when you make a mistake and then need to be changed, we changed them.”

That will likely forever remain a sensitive topic. The mayor is writing a book and plans to continue playing TV pundit on cable news. But in the short term, he’s planning to ride his bike around Lake Michigan.

Full interview with Mayor Emanuel below.

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