Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over his first City Council meeting at City Hall on May 18.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over his first City Council meeting at City Hall on May 18. Brian Jackson/AP
Chicago officials be forewarned: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city's new chief executive, may drop in on you with no notice and administer a snap quiz.
In a conversation with Weekend Edition Saturday, Emanuel told host Scott Simon that he did just that recently.
Between two scheduled events, Emanuel decided to make an impromptu visit to a police precinct in a high crime area which was just assigned 57 additional extra police officers as part of the new mayor's effort to get more police out of desk jobs and onto the streets.
"He came down and I said ... 'Tell me what your plan is?' " for deploying the additional officers, Emanuel said.
We don't learn the commander's response, probably a good thing since why should police give away their game plan to gang members and other criminals?
Emanuel related the story as an example of how as mayor, a job he's been in for a month, he can have an immediate, hands-on impact on real-world problems in ways that he couldn't as chief of staff in President Obama's White House.
After that anecdote, certain Chicago police commanders might wish Emanuel had stayed in his prior position, of course, given the story of his visit to the precinct.
But they may be dealing with him for some time. He sounds like he's enjoying his new job at least much as he thought he would. And he's keeping up his fitness. He told Scott that when he and the president check in with each other these days, one thing they do is compare their strict exercise regimens.
From surging police into Chicago's high-crime neighborhoods to working to increase the classroom time for the city's public-school students to dealing with the larger municipal deficit, Emanuel is trying to shake up a city bureaucracy that clearly grew complacent under his predecessor.
Richard M. Daley held the mayor's office for 22 years, the longest tenure of any Chicago mayor. Emanuel doesn't say it, but you get a sense from the interview that maybe that was a little too long.
Take what he found in the city's public schools. He described the situation that existed under his predecessor who happens to also be a friend.
"Over the years there was an implicit understanding. The elected officials, politicians got labor peace. The teacher' union negotiated constant regular pay increases. And Johnny and Susie got left on the side of the road. They didn't get any more instructional time.
"We have the shortest school day and year in the country of any major city. And what I said is 'I will not be a party to that agreement, cheating the kids.' Now we can sit around and say... 'This is all about the kids.' If it's all about the kids, how did we end up with the shortest school day and school year in the country?
"Just by way of example, a child in Houston and Chicago who both start kindergarten on the same day and they go all the way through high school, you know because of the length of day in Houston, the child in Houston spends the equivalent of three more days in the classroom learning just because of the length of day...
"I said (to teachers) 'You're going to get a pay raise,' but ... I'm happy that the governor signed into law on Monday the ability for us to finally get a length of day and a length of year that makes the kids' education competitive with the rest of the country and also with the kids in Hong Kong, with the kids in Singapore, with the kids in London. And Berlin. That's how you compete to win and seize the future."
So Emanuel's arrival has meant, so far, longer school days (he instigated that) and probably more anxious police officials. Sounds like he's having an impact.
Much of what Emanuel told Scott was what you would expect: he's going to make sure big contracts, like who gets to run the major concessions at O'Hare airport's international terminal, will be in the best interest of Chicago's citizens; he's fortunate to have had such great jobs — working for presidents Bill Clinton and Obama, being a congressman and now mayor of the nation's "greatest" city.
He also talked a lot about sending out Eli's cheesecakes, threatening even to send one to his interviewer.
And Emanuel made a promise that probably came out a little differently than he intended it.
"I'm going to keep telling the truth until it stops working for me."
Again, he probably didn't mean it to sound like he'll stop telling the truth if his poll numbers drop.
He more likely meant he plans to level with Chicagoans and to hold city officials accountable, himself included.
After 30 days in office he gave himself an incomplete which makes sense. It was only a month into the reign of Rahm.
That's a thought that some police commanders and Chicago school children may not find at all pleasing.