Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens to a question from host Alison Cuddy at WBEZ’s The First 100 event on Wednesday.
On Eight Forty-Eight this morning, WBEZ aired its interview with Rahm Emanuel, in commemoration of the mayor’s first 100 days in office. The discussion, hosted by Alison Cuddy, was taped Wednesday night at an event cohosted by the radio station and the Chicago History Museum.
I attended the taping, along with about 400 other locals who came to see our new mayor, a certifiable celebrity, fairly up-close—and have the chance to ask him questions. The museum’s auditorium was almost full, and, according to a WBEZ producer, the event—which also featured several city department heads—sold out “in record time.” (Admission was free). The program instructed audience questioners to form lines behind microphones on either side of the stage. The expectation was that Emanuel would take those questions, and then stick around while his department heads did the same. (“The Mayor’s office was always hesitant to take live questions from the audience,” Eight Forty-Eight senior producer Aurora Aguilar said, “but we continued to push for their participation.”)
Rahm went solo and first, sitting beside Eight Forty-Eight host Cuddy, who interviewed him and interspersed questions solicited on the station’s website. “The mayor is not taking questions from the audience,” Cuddy announced. I sensed disappointment among those around me, but Rahm seemed to win over the crowd by saying that he “loves” them all, but that he needed to go home to his family.
His current 79 percent approval rating does not surprise me. Quip-a-minute Rahm kept the audience laughing.
Most of the interview, which aired this morning, can be heard on the website, but a sample posted on wbez.org on Thursday epitomized Rahm’s style. Cuddy read the question from “Richard in Uptown,” who worried that a casino located downtown or near downtown could lure South Loop college students into gambling. The host asked the mayor where the casino would be built, and Rahm replied, without missing a beat, that it would be in Uptown, right next door to Richard. “I want to make it a short walk for Richard,” he joked. He then explained articulately and persuasively that the city can no longer afford to lose revenue to casinos in Des Plaines or Hammond; that its decaying infrastructure requires the millions that the casino will generate. He also promised site selection input from “architects and urban designers.”
Rahm exited stage left, and the second part of the program featured the mayor’s new Superintendent of Police Garry McCarthy; Forrest Claypool, Rahm’s old friend and his pick to head the CTA; Amer Ahmad, the city’s new comptroller; and Michelle Boone, its new commissioner of cultural affairs. Seated on stage in a line, questioned by Cuddy and members of the live audience, the four listened intently and answered earnestly.
For me, the program was a not-to-miss opportunity. I’d been seeking a one-on-one interview with Rahm for months—to no avail. So I spent quite some time before the event thinking about what I wanted to ask the mayor while the asking was good. With his refusal to take questions from the live audience, I had to settle for answers from the department heads. Striking from my list several questions that were answered in the second half of the program—about crime on the CTA platforms, for example—here are some of the questions I would have asked the mayor:
+ A feud seems to be brewing between you and Gov. Pat Quinn, who appears increasingly unwilling to play second fiddle. He’s questioning, for example, why your name is on signs signaling road repairs that are mostly funded by state money. Will the casino bill be a casualty of this feud?
+ How often do you talk to Rich Daley seeking advice or background on issues affecting the city? How’s your relationship faring these days, as you regularly explain that you’re cleaning up old messes and bad policies?
+ How long will Alderman Ed Burke have his bodyguards? How long will Daley have his?
+ Your wife, Amy Rule, has been virtually invisible since May, when you were inaugurated. When will we begin to hear from her, and has she decided on a particular agenda she wants to pursue?
+ When you were head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I remember reading that your son complained that you’d be on your cell phone while you played catch with him. Does the city business also spill over to your time with your family? Have you worked out strategies for keeping them separate?
+ My hunch is that you don’t see yourself as mayor-for-life. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Back in D.C.? In the White House? What do you miss about Washington?
+ The 2012 presidential race is heating up, and Barack Obama’s campaign is headquartered here. How much time, if any, do you see yourself devoting to the president’s reelection?
+ As a Democrat, what’s your take on the new congressional districts drawn by the majority and the lawsuits filed by the state’s Republican congressmen—as well as the League of Women Voters—claiming that the new map is unfair?
+ Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard was scheduled to participate in the forum, but according to a WBEZ producer, your press secretary, Tarrah Cooper, canceled his appearance late Tuesday morning. Do you know why? Was it at your behest?
Photograph: Esther Kang