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Racing Toward The End Of His Term, Emanuel Holds 4 Events Designed To Sum Up His Legacy

The mayor returned to what has become a frequent refrain in his final weeks in office — his family’s immigrant history and the “power of the American Dream” — during a naturalization ceremony.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulates a newly naturalized American citizen.
Heather Cherone/The Daily Line
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DOWNTOWN — Historians attempting to make sense of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure as Chicago’s mayor could do worse than to concentrate on the four events on the mayor’s schedule Monday, precisely two weeks before the buzzer is set to sound on his two terms in office.

First up was a joint appearance with Gov. J.B. Pritzker to trumpet one of Emanuel’s favorite kind of achievements — another corporate relocation. The added bonus: two firms’ new home is the Old Main Post Office, which had been vacant for nearly a quarter of a century before Emanuel brokered the deal to renovate the Chicago landmark.

Meal-kit firm Home Chef will move from North Michigan Avenue, and 84.51° — a tech firm that “helps retail partners develop, nurture and embrace customer-driven relationships” — will move from Cincinnati, Ohio. The company plans to add more than 160 new jobs.

The companies, both subsidiaries of food giant Kroger Co., will lease more than 100,000 square feet of office space in the Old Post Office, joining Walgreens Boots Alliance, Ferrara Candy Company, AbelsonTaylor and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.  

Emanuel has frequently lauded Chicago’s booming food-business sector — with more than 1,400 companies, 60,000 employees and nearly $9 billion in gross domestic product — as one of his signature achievements.

And even though Amazon passed over Chicago for its second headquarters, Emanuel has rarely missed an opportunity to tout the fact that the robust number of tech firms created and relocated in Chicago made tech the city’s fastest-growing industry sector.

After fielding a few questions from reporters, Emanuel hopped into his black SUV for the quick ride to City Hall, where he presided over his 12th and final naturalization ceremony in the City Council chambers.

The 25 new citizens representing 18 countries of origin were seated in the high-backed, red-leather chairs typically reserved for aldermen. “You may be sitting in the chairs of aldermen,” Emanuel said, “but you hold the highest position in America: citizen.”

The mayor also returned to what has become a frequent refrain in his final weeks in office — his family’s immigrant history and the “power of the American Dream,” which drew his grandfather to Chicago from what is now Ukraine and his father from Israel.

Emanuel and the City Council have challenged President Donald Trump’s immigration policies dozens of times on the Council floor and in the courts, including by creating a $1.3 million immigrant defense fund.

A lawsuit filed by the city in August 2017 blocked the Trump administration’s effort to yank federal funds from sanctuary cities like Chicago. That ruling has been appealed, and may eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court — long after Emanuel has left office.

Next on the mayor’s agenda was a trip to Malcolm X College on the South Side to announce an expansion of the Chicago Star Scholarship Program, one of the things Emanuel said Monday he is most proud of “in my whole, entire public life.”

The scholarship launched in 2015. It covers tuition and books for three years for Chicagoans at the seven City Colleges for Chicago Public Schools students graduating with a 3.0 grade-point average. The expansion now includes graduates of 12 Catholic high schools that partner with the Big Shoulders Fund, the mayor announced.

Scholarships are reserved for Catholic School students whose families earn less than $50,000 annually, the mayor said.

Emanuel credited the program with helping more than 6,400 CPS graduates attend college for free and are also available to undocumented immigrants, who are denied federal student aid.

During the announcement of the plan’s expansion, Emanuel again grew emotional as he looked forward to the June graduation of his son, Zach, from UCLA.

Emanuel capped off his night at the annual James Beard award ceremony at the Lyric Opera House — known as the “Oscars of the food industry” — which moved to Chicago in 2015 after 24 years in New York, and has committed to keeping its glamorous celebration of all things foodie-related in Chicago through 2027.

During his speech, the mayor indulged in one of his favorite pastimes — taking a shot at Trump for serving burgers and fries to visiting sports championship teams.

“Fast food does not belong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel has used the event to drive tourism to Chicago, which set a record of more than 57.7 million visitors in 2018.

All four events showcased the contention Emanuel has made in a series of interviews and speeches that his leadership brought Chicago back from the brink of financial ruin and transformed a declining industrial center into a booming 21st Century metropolis.

However, in less than two weeks, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot will take office after campaigning on a platform to guide Chicago along a much different path than the one charted by Emanuel — taking the mayor’s ultimate legacy out of his hands.