Emanuel reflects on his legacy in Chicago: ‘We got our game back’

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CHICAGO — Speaking at the City Club of Chicago Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he wasn’t delivering his goodbye address, but the hour-long discussion of his record sure sounded like one.

The City Club is the place to go to discuss public policy over lunch, and so it’s where Mayor Emanuel went to frame discussion of his legacy. When he was elected 8 years ago, Emanuel said the city had a crisis of confidence.

“Today we still have still have debates about how best to accomplish certain things but there is no longer any doubt that Chicago can rise to the occasion and accomplish big things again. We got our game back,” Emanuel said.

The mayor held up his work educating city children and young adults. Critics point out Emanuel feuded with the Chicago Teachers Union and closed nearly 50 schools. But the mayor sees education as a big accomplishment, saying there’s no doubt about the skills of Chicago schoolchildren, or that City Colleges of Chicago can be a road towards a promising career.

“We don’t doubt the kids of the City of Chicago to set records. We don’t doubt that they are doing great things, setting national academic standards by Chicago Public Schools,” Emanuel said. “We raised the bar for success and our children across Chicago exceeded our expectations.”

There were lighter moments and classic Emanuel off-the-cuff comments, like when moderator Craig Dellimore asked Emanuel about being called “Mayor One Percent.” He used it as a moment to jab Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who wrote a memo saying Emanuel and the business community have “serious problems.”

“Go ask Rocky Wirtz what he thinks about being part of the one percent,” Emanuel said.

But in the end the mayor said his years will be remembered as a time when City Hall stopped denying and deferring tough decisions.

“The question is are we better prepared as a city to meet the future than we were eight years ago? Are we in a stronger position in the city to make the most of the decades ahead than we were eight years ago?” Emanuel said. “I believe because of the hard work of all Chicagoans across this city day in and day out for eight years, the answer is yes.”

The mayor was asked about the “F” grade Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman’s gave Emanuel for working with people, and he admitted sometimes he’s impatient but that the political system needs actors who are impatient.

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