By: Mark Glennon*
Rahm Emmanuel will become Bruce Rauner on steroids — a relentlessly creative and radical turnaround artist — or he and Chicago are finished.
The jig is up. The national press has tuned in. They are starting to say outright that Chicago is heading towards bankruptcy, as Bloomberg did today, even if most of our local media and Chicago voters remain far behind the curve. Denial, delay, extend and pretend won’t fly anymore. The arithmetic of budgets and pensions for Chicago and its overlapping layers of government is now as indisputable as it is terrifying.
Rahm didn’t do this to Chicago. Richard M. Daley did it, along with most other Cook County Democrats, including those who control the state legislature. Their names will be dirt when books are written about this crisis. Rahm will try, above all else, to salvage his name and career by distancing himself however possible — we must hope.
This election was absurd. What should have been a contest between turnaround plans was, instead, largely a debate about Rahm’s supposed austerity, which in fact consisted of little more than closing some schools. Most Chicagoans have no idea what’s about to hit, and Rahm does bear blame for that. He might have spent his first term conditioning voters to the severity of the city’s problems, but he didn’t. The bond market let him get away with budget gimmicks, debt and underfunding pensions. It won’t now.
A primary goal of any turnaround is to get to a point where people start “calling a bottom.” A tipping point happens when the worst seems over — money flows in and confidence snowballs. The quicker you make hard decisions the sooner somebody will call that bottom. At the state level we haven’t gotten there, but it’s visible on the horizon because Governor Rauner has called it straight and has done what’s necessary, accepting the low approval ratings that result. Nothing like that is remotely in sight in Chicago.
Do it, Rahm, for your own sake and Chicago’s — a 180-degree pivot. The turnaround world will welcome you.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints. Opinions expressed are his own.