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Emanuel, Preckwinkle: So can they deliver?

Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel holds his first formal press conference Wednesday Feb. 23 2011 UniLeague Club. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel holds his first formal press conference Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011, at the Union League Club. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 24, 2011 3:34AM



The honeymoon began at precisely 11:05 a.m. Wednesday in an ornate chamber of the private Union League Club in downtown Chicago.

Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel addressed a room of obedient, seated reporters while standing at a podium with a crystal chandelier dangling above him.

He smiled. He blushed. He spoke softly.

He used the “Clinton thumb,” the loose-fist, thumb-on-top gesture made famous by former President Bill Clinton. Apparently, pointing became politically incorrect in the 1990s.

Emanuel reminded us he spent the morning greeting commuters at a CTA station at 95th Street and the Dan Ryan Expressway and that he did two interviews, one with Chicago’s black talk radio station WVON-AM (1690).

He’s down with the people, folks. All nicely choreographed.

Reporters lobbed questions but didn’t probe into vague answers.

We laughed at his jokes. We respected his long-windedness.

It was the day after. The room felt tired. Like the morning after a bawdy wedding reception.

It won’t be that way for long.

Emanuel takes office at noon May 16. He will lead a city that is operating, financially, on fumes. After selling off assets and tapping one-time revenue sources, Chicago must replenish its pension funds or face insolvency.

And yet Emanuel’s ideas so far to boost the city treasury while reducing the sales tax fall far short of a balanced budget. He offers no finger snap to deal with pensioned workers, promising only to make tough choices and to work toward cost savings through union negotiations.

All easier said than done.

Just look at the template Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle began to etch in November. While Emanuel skipped briskly over the particulars Wednesday, members of the county board haggled over their own office budgets about six blocks away.

As Preckwinkle is discovering — and Emanuel soon will — the legislative branch isn’t always cooperative.

During a budget amendment process, two Southland commissioners, Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood), and Deborah Sims (D-Chicago), insisted they could not cope with a reduction to their own offices. Even though the county is laying off workers and demanding furlough days from other departments, they called a proposal that would give each commissioner $350,000 to run their district offices “unfair” and “crippling.”

“I’ve got workers two years away from being vested in their pension, and now we’re going to get rid of them?” Murphy said. “What’s fair about that?”

They, along with Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) listed a number of reasons why their suburban offices should not be forced to sustain a cut, from travel costs to rent to a wider net of constituent problems and more-senior staff who earn higher pay.

Keep in mind the proposed $350,000 office allowance, along with a maximum of four staff members with benefits, would include commissioners’ contingency funds, according to the amendment. Sims has used her contingency fund to lease an $804 per month Cadillac, while Murphy, as of November 2009, was leasing an $839 per month Lexus.

Gorman spent part of her contingency fund on a master’s degree.

So maybe they’ll have to give up the fancy cars, look for office space in government buildings where it would be free and, yes, consider laying off a staff member.

It is painful to pink-slip, but that’s what leaders do, especially leaders asking other elected officials to make sacrifices in their offices.

Emanuel ought to get used to the feeling. His honeymoon will be brief — with voters, with the city council and with the media.

Perhaps Preckwinkle could show him some pointers, using the “Clinton thumb,” of course.

Her honeymoon ended three weeks ago, about 1 p.m., on the day she delivered her budget address.

She promised exactly what Emanuel did: reform.

We’ll see if Preckwinkle accomplishes it. Her budget is scheduled for a vote Friday.



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