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Rahm Emanuel Gets Ready for New Job as Mayor of Chicago

Rahm Emanuel smiles as he talks to his supporters and volunteers at his campaign office in Chicago
Rahm Emanuel smiles as he talks to his supporters and volunteers at his campaign office in Chicago

BOB DOUGHTY: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week on our program we look at the interesting political life of America's third largest city, Chicago.


BARACK OBAMA: "Hello, Chicago! [Applause.] It is good to be back in Chicago! [Applause.]"

BOB DOUGHTY: Chicago, Illinois, is the hometown of President Obama. He appeared at three fund-raising events on April fourteenth -- the first events of his campaign for re-election next year.

Mr. Obama is basing his campaign headquarters in Chicago. He pointed out that this is the first time in modern history that a sitting president has based a re-election campaign outside of Washington.

BARACK OBAMA: "This is the city where I got my start in politics twenty-five years ago, working with churches on the South Side to bring jobs to the jobless and hope to the hopeless. It’s where I stood with so many of you in Grant Park, almost two and a half years ago when we showed the world that all things are possible in the United States of America. [Applause.]"

VOICE TWO: Soon another notable event will take place in Chicago. Richard M. Daley is retiring as mayor of the city. Mayor Daley has led Chicago for twenty-two years, since nineteen eighty-nine.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

Chicagoans have elected Rahm Emanuel as their next mayor. Mr. Emanuel served as chief of staff to President Obama. He has also served as a Democratic congressman from the Chicago area.

On May sixteenth Rahm Emanuel will become the top political leader of a city famous for its politics, long controlled by Democrats. In fact, Chicago has not had a Republican mayor in eighty years, since William "Big Bill" Thompson left office in nineteen thirty-one.

BOB DOUGHTY: Chicago is a big place to govern -- the business center of the Midwest. The city lies along the shore of one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. Some of the wealthiest people in Chicago live in the high-rise buildings along the lakeshore.

Chicago is divided into fifty legislative areas called wards. Each ward elects a representative known as an alderman to the Chicago City Council.

Last year's national census found that two million seven hundred thousand people were living in the city. That was a decrease of about seven percent since the last census in two thousand.

The population is racially and ethnically mixed. Whites are the largest group at forty-five percent. The city also has large numbers of blacks and Hispanics. And it has large numbers of people who work in Chicago but live in the growing suburbs outside the city.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The most influential political organization in Chicago is the Cook County Democratic Party. The organization is also known as the "Chicago Machine" or simply "The Machine." Many of its leaders have been of Irish, Polish and other immigrant ancestry.

Chicago is often called "the city that works." At its best, the machine has made things work smoothly. But at its worst, the centering of power in one group has led to cases of corruption over the years.

Professor James Thurber directs a political studies center at American University in Washington. Professor Thurber says an effective political machine depends on a well-organized party that treats its supporters well.

JAMES THURBER: "When I think of Chicago politics, I think of politics built on well-disciplined machines, machines that get people jobs. They actually make sure that certain streets get ploughed and other streets do not get ploughed when there is a snowstorm. They control recruitment of who goes into political office. And if you are not loyal to the machine, and the policy of the machine, you are out.”

Professor Thurber points out that many American cities had political machines in the past. But around the nineteen hundreds, a change took place. Cities began to give jobs to civil service employees instead of political appointees. But Professor Thurber says in Chicago, the tradition of a skillfully operated political machine continued.

JAMES THURBER: "It slowly is declining in its effectiveness, though."


BOB DOUGHTY: Mayor Daley won seventy percent of the vote in his last election in two thousand seven. Chicagoans elected him six times. But last September, he surprised many people with this announcement.

RICHARD M. DALEY: "Today I am announcing that I will not seek a seventh term as mayor of the city of Chicago. Simply put, it is time. It is time for me, it is time for Chicago, to move on. Improving Chicago has been the ongoing work of my life. I loved every minute of it."

Mayor Daley's father, Richard J. Daley, was also mayor for many years. He was first elected in nineteen fifty-five. Over the years he played an influential part in national politics in the Democratic Party. Richard J. Daley led Chicago for twenty-one years. He died in office in nineteen seventy-six, thirteen years before his son became mayor.

Another of his sons, John Daley, is a Cook County commissioner. And another son, William Daley, is now chief of staff to President Obama. Remember? That's the job Rahm Emanuel held until last October.

VOICE TWO: Mayor Daley led improvements in the downtown, lakefront and North Side areas. He put a garden on the roof of City Hall. And he supported the building of Millennium Park near Lake Michigan. People go there for music, theater, ice skating and other entertainment.

But in two thousand nine, even with support from President Obama, Chicago lost its campaign to host the Summer Olympics. Olympic organizers chose Rio de Janeiro for twenty-sixteen, awarding the games to South America for the first time.


BOB DOUGHTY: Chicago's next mayor, Rahm Emanuel, says he wants make the streets safer, especially for children on their way to school. Gangs are a problem, and in the past few years a number of young people have been attacked by other young people.

Mr. Emanuel says he also wants to improve the city's finances. Chicago is struggling with a budget deficit of more than six hundred fifty million dollars.

Rahm Emanuel was elected in February with fifty-five percent of the vote. He will be the city's first Jewish mayor. He defeated five other candidates.

RAHM EMANUEL: "What makes this vote gratifying is that it was built on votes from every corner of this city, from people who believe that a common set of challenges must be met with a common purpose."

But the election provided a fresh example of the rough politics for which Chicago is known. Rahm Emanuel had to go through a legal fight all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court just to get on the ballot.

Some Chicagoans accused him of failing to meet residency requirements as a candidate for mayor. Mr. Emanuel argued that he was still a legal resident of Chicago even when he was serving the president in Washington.

He helped Mr. Obama move from the Senate to the White House in the two thousand eight election. But he also has a lot of experience in local politics. He helped raise record amounts of money for Mayor Daley's election in nineteen eighty-nine.

FAITH LAPIDUS: American University Professor James Thurber says Rahm Emanuel will need the cooperation of the Chicago City Council to succeed. But Don Rose, a longtime political commentator in Chicago, says it remains to be seen if the new mayor will get the support of Alderman Edward Burke. Mr. Burke is sometimes called the most powerful alderman in Chicago.

Mr. Emanuel will be seeing some new faces on the fifty-member council. Eighteen new members have been chosen in the past four years.


BOB DOUGHTY: Politics is not the only game in Chicago. The city has two major league baseball teams, the White Sox and the Cubs. Fans of the Cubs are famous for their loyalty to a team that has not won a World Series championship since nineteen eight. "Everyone loves a loser, and the Cubs are exactly that," says Roy Olson, a former sportswriter and a Cub fan since childhood.

But no matter what happens in sports or politics, Chicagoans have their music. Blues is a traditional favorite. So is jazz which can be found in clubs from Rush Street to the city limits and beyond.

In nineteen seventy-five, John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse opened a Broadway musical called "Chicago." The show makes fun of crime and corruption in the city during the nineteen twenties. It takes place during Prohibition, the period when the United States banned alcohol.

The musical has led to a movie and foreign productions. It remains a popular song-and-dance show for theatergoers in New York.

Here are jazz pianist Brad Ellis and his Little Big Band playing a piece from "Chicago" called "All That Jazz."


The music sounds sweet and energetic and simple and complex -- not so different from the city itself.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Brianna Blake. I’m Faith Lapidus.

BOB DOUGHTY: And I’m Bob Doughty. You can read and listen to our programs and get podcasts at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.