By John Byrne, Clout Street 8/12/14
A day after traveling to New York to talk about a minimum wage increase, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is back in Chicago to announce the next step in an initiative to promote the growth of local healthcare companies and tout an increase in the number of kids attending Chicago Park District summer camp.
Emanuel joined New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and other big-city mayors Monday at a summit on income inequality, a move mayoral critics saw as an attempt to burnish his progressive credentials ahead of the February 2015 municipal election.
Today, Emanuel is scheduled to appear with wealthy tech investor J.B. Pritzker to talk about the new executive team for MATTER, which the mayor’s office describes at “an entrepreneurship hub for next-generation health, medical device and biopharma companies.”
Emanuel also will discuss the fact that more than 41,000 children ages six to 12 attended Park District camp this summer, which his office said is 10,000 more than five years ago.
For Emanuel, the New York summit provided a politician known for insider deal-making and hewing to a centrist political strategy the chance to appear with de Blasio, the latest symbol of a re-emerging progressive wing as a factor in Democratic politics.
Chicago’s mayor got another national stage to tout his push for an increased minimum wage and expanded earlier educational opportunities as he works to gain the support of liberals whom he has often disdained.
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who is considering a run against Emanuel, said the trip out east was a move by the incumbent to try to establish some kind of record left wing voters will smile on after spending most of his first term “closing schools, demoralizing the police department and creating a mess.”
Emanuel, however, said his attendance at the New York summit wasn’t about his own political jockeying, but rather a focus on issues he said were in keeping with “everything I’ve done my whole life.”
The Emanuel administration usually doesn’t tell the public of the mayor’s frequent out-of-state trips until he’s on the ground. This time, the mayor’s top aides sought to showcase their boss’ New York appearance, offering advanced notice to two Chicago reporters and inviting them to attend the event.
While in New York, Emanuel stressed the importance of the minimum wage increase and early childhood education as he led a working session with his fellow mayors on increasing the minimum wage.
Last month, Emanuel endorsed a plan to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour from the current $8.25 by 2018. But the mayor also said the City Council would not take action until the state legislature considers increasing the statewide minimum wage after the November election.
The timing offers some wiggle room to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who are campaigning for re-election this fall on hiking the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour. Emanuel won’t say whether he’ll still pursue the $13 an hour rate in the city if state lawmakers go with $10.
While de Blasio campaigned last year on a so-called millionaire’s tax to pay for universal pre-K for all children and for New York City’s right to have its own, higher minimum wage than the rest of the state, Emanuel’s talk of supporting the initiatives has come more recently.
Two weeks ago, Emanuel said he planned to provide pre-K for 1,500 four year olds who live below or at the poverty level and don’t have access to at least a half-day of learning. The proposal is not universal — it would not serve all of the city’s four year olds — and Emanuel clarified Monday that he’s calling it “universal pre-K for all kids at poverty.”
The mayor hasn’t said how much such a program would cost or how he’d pay for it, just that he’d directed his staff to make that determination.