Mayoral tan? Bali Hai Mayor Rahmfather
Nice tan, Mr. Mayor!
You came back from steamy and tropical Indonesia to a city frozen in ice and snow, where the side streets and alleys hadn’t been plowed and where schoolkids were almost sent into the worst of the cold.
But Rahm Emanuel wasn’t worried. He held a Monday news conference about the cold, and almost all of his commissioners who flanked him were dressed like the mayor, in fleece and boots, bureaucrats eager to play the heroic action figure for the cameras.
The women were dressed professionally. But of the men, only police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Housing Authority boss Mike Merchant were secure enough to wear suits and ties. Their mothers had raised them properly.
Rahm? He had some kind of Jack Bauer fleece going on.
“I was away with my family on holiday,” he said at the news conference that I just couldn’t miss, which is why you’re getting a bonus column from me today — “and I was in regular contact.”
Of course, he was in regular contact. But he wouldn’t take my questions, so I couldn’t ask him about his killer tan, though a few reporters speculated privately he might have used a wee bit of powder to tamp down that bronze sheen.
“Every one of the commissioners know and would report I’ve been in contact with them on a regular basis, and with my chief of staff multiple times on a daily basis,” said Mayor Rahmfather, adding that his family didn’t think he was on vacation given all his communicating with City Hall.
It all sounded so smooth, kind of like Nancy Pelosi’s face only with words, until I realized something.
The mayor of Chicago had been rolled and embarrassed by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis into closing Chicago Public Schools.
City Hall’s original plan — with Rahm in the tropics — was to keep the schools open Monday. But for days previous, every weathercaster in America, and Matt Drudge, knew that on Monday, Chicago would just about freeze its brass monkeys off.
And still Team Rahm considered keeping schools open, until Lewis issued a short news release saying that “common sense” dictated that schools be closed for the safety of the children. And it was done.
Lewis didn’t merely roll him. She dropped him in flour, flipped him over a bit in there for a thorough dusting, then slipped him into a hot frying pan as if he were some tiny Indonesian smelt.
You can imagine her singing “Bali Hai” as she popped him into her mouth, crunching down on his diminutive and crispy, mayoral form.
But that’s not the way Team Rahm sees it.
He was asked about how he let things get so far with the 40-below wind chill and parents not knowing late into Sunday afternoon whether schools would be open, when he stepped back and bravely allowed his schools chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett to answer for him.
“That’s not quite accurate,” she told reporters of the Lewis-rolled-Rahm-again scenario. “As we began to take a look at the decrease in the temperature, and a decrease in the wind chill factor … we thought it best. … It may have seemed at the last minute, but it wasn’t.”
Byrd-Bennett was asked, didn’t the teachers union compel you to close schools with its social media campaign?
“I actually was not aware they had done that,” said Triple-B, proving she was the only person in Chicago who didn’t know. “Somebody did send me an e-mail that there was a press release or whatever but that had no effect on the ultimate decision I’ve made … and the recommendation I made to the mayor.”
And that is how a loyal bureaucrat falls on a sword made of ice.
It’s obvious that as he begins his re-election phase, the mayor of Chicago is so confident that he goes to Indonesia while Chicago freezes and the side streets and alleys hadn’t been plowed.
Not sending out front-end loaders into the wards early in the storm was foolish. Those pieces of equipment, called high-lifts in the Streets and Sanitation Department, could have cleared the alleys. But for all their fleece and boots, the bureaucratic men of action are just bureaucrats, and they need a mayor breathing on them to make a decision.
A City Hall type scoffed privately that the Rahmfather doesn’t hang out on beaches. He’d rather go on rugged adventures.
But much as I’d like to picture him hunting deadly pythons with chopsticks and a burlap sack, or riding Komodo dragons to show them who’s boss, gripping them with his dancer’s thighs while mocking their terrible jaws, I’d rather stick to the jungles of Chicago politics.
And in Chicago politics, smart mayors don’t get suntans in January, not when they’re a little more than a year out from an election.
Most voters and taxpayers don’t have the cash to go on a tropical vacation. They don’t like getting their noses rubbed into it by the political class.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley was terrified of suntans in January. Legend has it that he’d never hang out poolside at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, content to wait until sunset to venture forth for the entertainments of South Florida.
For all his faults, from that Mayor Chucky crankiness to the arrogance of spending the city into the financial sinkhole, Daley understood how much Chicago could take.
And Rahm, with that Indonesian bronze going on, only thinks he does.
(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM. His e-mail address is: [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)
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