Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff, spoke at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on Friday afternoon, talking at length about his successes as mayor and emphasizing reforms he has implemented to the city’s schools since taking office.
The event was held in the style of an interview, led by Lois Romano, senior political reporter at Politico.
Emanuel began by pointing out the importance of cities as the epicenters of progress and innovation amid frequent political stalemates at the federal level. He then said that under his leadership Chicago has come to represent the nation’s urban-fueled growth.
“Chicago is the only city in all of North America … to move into the top ten rankings for worldwide economic competitiveness,” Emanuel said, citing a report published by the Economist this year.
He attributed this accomplishment to the many Fortune 100 companies located in the city, but stressed the value of the Chicago’s many universities and community colleges in making the city such a global economic force.
During his term, Emanuel has overseen a number of infrastructural improvements, including the expansion of O’Hare Airport, the replacement of all buses and trains in Chicago’s public transit system, and the renovation of every station in the city’s transportation network.
Emanuel has also implemented major changes in the city’s education system. Under his leadership, Emanuel said public schools across the city have undergone significant capital improvements, financed by the reallocation of funds after the closure of some 50 under-enrolled schools in the city’s system. He also said he has pushed for more rigorous academics and a longer school day.
“We have now given the children of the City of Chicago a full school day and a full school year for the first time,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel highlighted the importance of such changes, pointing out the demonstrated ability of cities to champion their own causes. Aside from only a few programs, Emanuel said “you can’t tell me a single thing the federal government has done for children in the last 50 years.”
Though politics in Chicago are not without conflict, Emanuel said the city was still able to make improvements in spite of the tension.
“The political system might be embattled, but the kids are better off,” Emanuel said.
Despite the city’s progress, especially with regards to making the community colleges more viable, Emanuel said that he is not an educational reformer.
Breaking from the topic of education, Romano challenged the mayor on the crime rate in Chicago, which she said had been dubbed the country’s murder capital.
Emanuel responded by citing a recent decrease in the city’s crime rate and attributing the city’s high gun crime rate to its geography. He drew attention to the lax gun laws of neighbor states and the city’s role as a national transportation hub to account for the large presence of guns in Chicago.
—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct. 23, 2013
Earlier versions of the caption, kicker, and URL of the photo accompanying this article misspelled Rahm Emanuel’s last name.
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