Rahm Emanuel: I Want The World To Come To Chicago

It's been nearly a year since Rahm Emanuel cruised to victory in the election for Chicago's mayor. Host Michel Martin talks with Mayor Emanuel about how he's raising Chicago's international profile and working to boost the city's economy. Emanuel also weighs in on President Obama's re-election campaign.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, for millions of Americans the effects of the economic downturn still linger. But with more jobs being added to the economy, the outlook for some is getting brighter. We'll talk about a series that NPR is launching today. It's called, Looking Up and we'll talk about that in just a few minutes.

But first, a newsmaker interview with a man who was a national figure long before he claimed victory in the Chicago mayor's race. He's a former U.S. congressman. He worked alongside President Obama as his first White House chief of staff. But now, Rahm Emanuel is bringing a global spotlight to his city. On Friday, Mr. Emanuel wrapped up a two-day international summit of mayors and foreign ministers. They had gathered to talk about strategies for spurring job creation, building sustainable infrastructure and fostering green technology in the world's urban centers.

Here to talk about this and more we hope is the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. Welcome to the program and congratulations since is the first time we've talked since your election to the office.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: I hope it didn't take you nine months to warm up to that, Michel.

MARTIN: No, not all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It just took us nine months for you to return our phone call.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

EMANUEL: Yeah. Yeah, well, its been great and I appreciate that. It's very nice of you. And the big thing is, well, it was a nice election victory. And everything we're doing will be measured about whether businesses can grow and families can thrive.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about the meeting. The OECD refers to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And these OECD meetings had previously been staged, these mayors and ministers forums in Paris, Milan and Madrid. Now, you're no stranger to these big international meetings, but some people think of them as a nightmare - the logistics, the security, the cost. Why did you think it was important to bring this meeting to Chicago?

EMANUEL: Well, it's part of an overall strategy. First of all, we're the first metro area to issue a kind of economic blueprint that gives you a plan to how to grow your economy and how do you invest both of the people so they have the skills and education and your infrastructure so your economy can grow.

Second is, and the topic is really to the conference, Michel. I want the world to come to Chicago and Chicago to the world. We have this conference, many mayors, I mean, the mayor from Basel, Switzerland came and he said: What a beautiful city you have here. The mayor from Stockholm same issue, Montreal. We have in six weeks 14 Nobel Peace Prize winners coming here. We're doing an international conference with youth. We're going to be all hooked up around the world and around the country by Skype and satellite to participate in a conference with the Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Berlin held it, Paris held it, Rome had it. The American city they picked - Chicago, the most American of American cities in my view, and then the NATO conference. I think all this is about growing our tourism industry in the city of Chicago. So, the strategy is bringing a spotlight to Chicago, and so people update their sense of what this city is.

MARTIN: You know, to that end, I just want to play a short clip from some of your remarks during the conference where you talked about the need to create jobs and also create jobs and revitalize urban centers. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

EMANUEL: I cannot think of anything more fitting at a critical juncture for our urban centers because, as we all know, I think over the next 30 years the real economic competition and competitiveness and growth will come from the top 50-plus cities or major metropolitan areas around the globe.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit about that because you have offered incentives to bring companies that have moved out to the suburbs, bringing them back to Chicago. For example, the company Sara Lee received...

EMANUEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...some incentive to come back to Chicago. What about people who argue this is rearranging the deck chairs? How does this really enhance economic growth overall?

EMANUEL: Well, no. I mean, that's - I mean, you're picking one. GE added a thousands jobs to 1,100 they have here with no economic incentive except for we have a best trained and educated workforce. United Airlines, which is headquartered here, was looking to where they were going to put their operations center and they picked Chicago, 1,300 jobs. Dow Chemical put a regional operation here in Chicago and none of them include a financial incentive.

What it included was we're a transportation center. They can get in and out of O'Hare, get anywhere in the world. They can find highly trained, highly skilled, highly educated, and highly motivated workers. Building on those strengths was the strategy.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, well, I was hoping you'd pick on the two issues. One is the whole question of why leveraging existing urban centers actually enhances economic growth, and there's also the green argument, which is we're going to head to, too.

EMANUEL: Well, let me say one thing about...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

EMANUEL: For the last 20-plus years, companies looked at kind of the campus style model. What's now happening is density, which cities have is a huge strategic economic advantage. A, it saves on energy costs. B, the type of workers companies are looking for are educated. They love good nightlife, the cultural life, the entertainment that comes with living in an urban center.

To do that, we have to do a couple things. We've got to keep our cultural life of a city vibrant. We have to invest in our transportation infrastructure, our broadband infrastructure, so we are most economically competitive, so you have a 21st century economy sitting on a 21st century foundation. And then third, we have a trained, educated workforce of ample supply.

MARTIN: And would you talk a little bit more about your strategy for creating green jobs specifically since there's been so much, so much emphasis these days on improving manufacturing.

EMANUEL: Well, on the green jobs, I kind of - part of this conference the OECD, world business in Chicago where the mayors from around the world came, I talked about retrofit. We are retrofitting our major public buildings and are making them energy efficient. We're investing $200 million in retrofitting buildings. The $20 million a year in energy savings will pay that back. We'll put about 2,000 people to work, 1,800.

But we're also developing an expertise. And that expertise is other cities and states have to do retrofit. We will have some expertise in that space that is a growing industry. So, there's a lot of things we're doing. I visited a company that's literally patenting some of its urban agriculture aquaponics, and I believe as populations grow, urban agriculture is going to be a growing field. And now in Chicago, according to Bloomberg News, is one of the centers of the country on that type of an industry. So, all of that is green.

MARTIN: So, if you could put in your bid to have them grow your favorite food what would it be?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

EMANUEL: Let me say this. We eat at our home a lot of kale. And at 312 I saw they have a lot of kale as they're growing it indoors. And so, while I may have not had as much excitement as I'm supposed to, my wife when I tell her will be extremely excited about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: About the kale?

EMANUEL: So, about the kale.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

EMANUEL: And while it's good for you can I say I'm kaled out, OK?

MARTIN: You're all kaled out?

EMANUEL: I'm all kaled out, man. We're going on a kale strike just for a short 24-hour period, because Amy loves Kale and...

MARTIN: Kale chips?

EMANUEL: Yeah, I'm just telling you we could use a kale break but we're not allowed, OK?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK. Well, I would think you probably have some support there. We're speaking with the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. We're talking about an international conference that he just hosted in Chicago. We're talking about ideas to make Chicago a green city and also boosting its international profile.

You were talking about this is one reason you have these international meetings, because you learn about, you know, best practices and also business opportunities. You know, Chicago had been set to host the G8 Summit scheduled for May, but earlier this month the decision was made to move the event to Camp David. Did the president tell you why?

EMANUEL: Well, the president told the country why. Camp David offers a unique atmosphere to host the G8 world leaders. And then we, the city of Chicago, will host the NATO part, which is 50 world leaders. He explained that and there's really nothing more to say.

MARTIN: So, it's all good?

EMANUEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, obviously we've been focusing entirely on Chicago and bringing Chicago to the world, as we talked about. But you did serve as President Obama's chief of staff. And this week the Obama re-election team is scheduled to release a documentary about his first term in office. You were interviewed for this documentary. I'll just play a short clip from what people will see.

EMANUEL: Oh, I haven't even seen it.

MARTIN: You haven't seen it well...

EMANUEL: No.

Well, here's a little clip.

Well, I'll get to hear it now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: A little bit. Well, you'll get to here you. The first voice is actor Tom Hanks. He's the narrator. The second voice we will hear is you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY)

TOM HANKS: His advisers would ask where to begin, which urgent need would he put first?

EMANUEL: Which is one, which is two, which is three, which is four, which is five. Where do you start?

MARTIN: OK. Well, that's just a little flavor of it. You don't really get the whole big picture. But what do you hope will be drawn from this? At whom is this directed? What do you think is the message? To remind people of what he was facing when he came in?

EMANUEL: Well, no. Remind them what they were facing, not him. The president has never made this about him. It's about the American people. We were facing an economy that was the worst recession since the Great Depression and maybe flipping over to that. Not a company, but the entire auto industry ready to collapse.

Our image around the world, because of two wars, was kind of at the lowest levels, lowest point since World War II. And the question that was in front of the president was how to get America moving and where did you start when you faced that array of problems.

And the president - I think I said, I believe we're going to do it all because we have to, to get us moving. And that was not about what we faced - what we as a country faced, and the leadership he provided to begin to dig out from a country that was, you know, been hit by something it had not seen since the 1930s.

MARTIN: But who do you - I think my question was really directed toward - who do you hope will see this? Is it his base...

EMANUEL: I know, but my answer was what I wanted to say.

MARTIN: Oh, all right. OK. Just thought we were on the same page...

EMANUEL: You played your question and I played my answer.

MARTIN: All right. All right. I just want to be sure you heard my question. I wasn't sure.

EMANUEL: No - I heard you.

MARTIN: OK.

EMANUEL: It was not what he faced. I suppose if you ask...

MARTIN: No, no. My question was, who do you want to hear this? Is it his...

EMANUEL: The American people.

MARTIN: OK.

EMANUEL: Because this has been a journey for the last three years to dig out from an unprecedented economic hardship and we're not done. We are not done and he knows it and there's a lot of work ahead to make sure the middle class get back on their feet.

MARTIN: But I did want to ask, though, given the tenor of this campaign so far, and there's no sign that it's going to change at any time soon, do you - what prospect do you see that once this is - let's just say the president does win reelection, as I assume you believe he will.

But what prospect do you see in the next term for there to be more of the kind of cooperation that you would hope for and sort of moving things forward?

EMANUEL: Michel, you and I will - we'll do that another time.

MARTIN: OK.

EMANUEL: My hope is that after the election people will remember that we just had one; now it's time for governing. Let's put the interests of the middle class back. That has been the forefront and the center of the president's interest. A lot of people say the most important thing they can do is try to defeat him. My view is, after an election, you're done. Whether that strategy worked or not, put America's interests first.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, we have to let you weigh in on one more issue, which is - you've got the defending MVP in Derrick Rose. The Bulls have one of the best records in the NBA, and I want to ask what the Bulls have to do to bring that championship back to Chicago.

EMANUEL: Well, let me say this. This is for the coach's side and the players, but I'll say this. They're a great team. I love watching them. Nothing like focusing on the fundamentals to achieve greatness.

MARTIN: OK. That's all you got?

EMANUEL: That's all I'm going to give you.

MARTIN: OK.

EMANUEL: See ya.

MARTIN: Rahm Emanuel is the mayor of Chicago. He was formerly chief of staff to President Obama and a member of Congress and he was kind enough to join us from his office in Chicago. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much.

EMANUEL: Thanks, Michel. Have a good one.

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