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Mayor Emanuel Tries To Smooth Chicago Crisis; Protesters Insist He Must Go


You never let a serious crisis go to waste. Those words came from Chicago's mayor, and some people now call it Rahm's Rule. Rahm Emanuel has been in the middle of many a crisis as a White House aide, chief of staff, as a congressional leader, also a campaign architect. Now in his second term as mayor of Chicago, he is wrestling with his worst crisis, the fallout from the video showing a Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports that anger at the mayor stems from much more.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The protests outside of the mayor's office and elsewhere around the city these days are frequent and loud.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS #1: Sixteen shots and a cover-up.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS #1: Sixteen shots and a cover-up.

SCHAPER: This protest has scores of people marching around Chicago's City Hall. Among the several activists and ministers leading the way is Rev. William Crowder, pastor of Park Manor Christian Church on the city's South Side.

WILLIAM CROWDER: We need to find out what the mayor knew and when the mayor knew it.

SCHAPER: Crowder and others suspect that either Mayor Emanuel himself or his top aides tried to keep the video of the alleged police murder of Laquan McDonald from going public last spring in order to protect Emanuel's re-election campaign when he had been forced into a tough runoff.

CROWDER: I'm pretty sure he knows that people are not happy and people are, you know, pretty upset at his leadership at this point.

SCHAPER: In response to the growing backlash, Emanuel apologized for the Laquan McDonald shooting at a special meeting of the city council last week, saying it happened on his watch and he owns it. He addressed disparities between how whites and blacks are treated by police and the code of silence among police officers. But those acknowledgments impressed very few. Rev. Crowder says frustrations with Emanuel go beyond the police department.

CROWDER: You know, 50 schools closed, a sluggish economy, no jobs on the south or west sides of Chicago, and that's why this flood is building.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS #2: Rahm must go. Rahm must go.

SCHAPER: At other protests, there are similar feelings. Emanuel's recent apologies are just not enough.

DOUGLAS BEVEL: No, Rahm needs to go. Rahm needs to go.

SCHAPER: Fifty-year-old Douglas Bevel finds it hard to believe that Emanuel did not know these issues were such deep sore spots in the African-American community.

BEVEL: You know, Rahm is really interesting because as far as I know, he never had a real connection to the black community. He really got a pass because of his connection to Obama.

SCHAPER: So in recent days, the hashtag #resignrahm has been taking off on Twitter. Online petition drives seek to remove him from office, a couple of state lawmakers introduced legislation that would create a recall election process, and someone even jokingly posted his fifth floor City Hall office on Craigslist as soon to be vacated and for rent.

LAURA WASHINGTON: This is the biggest political crisis of his career, and it's one that I think has really kicked him back on his heels.

SCHAPER: Laura Washington is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC7 in Chicago. She says Emanuel either doesn't know Chicago or he's supremely cynical.

WASHINGTON: It's very hard to believe that someone as smart and as accomplished and as experienced as he is is just waking up to the fact that we have a thin blue line in this city, that he's just waking up to the fact that we have police brutality, that he's just waking up to the fact that we have a lot of problems with police misconduct. But that's what he wants you to believe.

SCHAPER: Still, Washington and many others in Chicago doubt Emanuel will ever resign. She says the movement to oust him isn't well organized nor speaking with one voice. The effort to pass a recall bill isn't expected to go far, and Emanuel still has most of the city's big money movers and shakers in his corner with three and a half years left in his term in office. For his part, Emanuel says he's ignoring the political machinations around it.


RAHM EMANUEL: This is a time for real solutions to a real challenge. My focus is on the challenges ahead of the city of Chicago, building a stronger future. I'll leave other people to do what they want to do.

SCHAPER: Over the past week, Emanuel has kept a low public profile but has been meeting with police officers and districts on the south and west sides and with ministers, community leaders and some younger activists in an effort to smooth community, police, City Hall relations. Up next is a two-week family vacation to Cuba. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.