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Reform: Rahm Emanuel, Policy Wonk?

Rahm-cover-vSo I finally got my hands on a bootleg copy of the TIME magazine cover story about Mayor Emanuel and had a chance to read it.  Anyone else?

The piece isn't as wildly overly hopeful as Jonathan Alter's profile last year, though it does describe Emanuel's longer school day initiative as "pragmatic" (which it wasn't really - at least not in how it was rolled out and pushed through), and it goes along with the notion that Emanuel is a hack who wants to be a wonk (what a horrible wonk he'd be!)

There's lots that's familiar -- the notion that Chicago is dominated by single-party intramural conflicts and that CTU and community leaders have gotten pretty heated charging City Hall with racism and murder (in advance).

But there's also some suggestion that Emanuel may be facing bigger challenges than he expected (or is willing to admit), and struggling to handle them well.  

There's the closings, for example:

"Facing a billion-dollar deficit in the schools budget, Emanuel had good reason to tackle the problem of half-full buildings and underperforming kids. But this giant step--no American city has closed as many schools at one time--was guaranteed to provoke."

The piece also points out that Emanuel has been more willing than the predecessor Daleys to take on the unions.  "No Daley was crazy enough to cross the teachers' union or tangle with the unionized janitors at O'Hare airport."  It's an important point that often gets left out of the current debate -- that the situation we're in is the product of years and years of get-along, fiddle at the margins kinds of changes (no matter how "hard-charging" Daley, Daley, Vallas and Duncan might have been made to seem).

Looked at this way, Emanuel didn't have much choice, really -- and it suits him personally as well. On its previous track Chicago was losing money, losing population, and its school system was wildly two-tiered and lacked good options for poor minority kids and wealthier white ones.

Nothing much has gotten better, yet -- arguably things have gotten worse.  That's on Emanuel and CTU equally, according to me.  Things could get worse still.  But limping along with the previous system in place wasn't getting us anywhere, really.

Image via TIME. Cross-posted from District299.com


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