Assessing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Record and Legacy

His days as Mayor Rahm Emanuel are winding down. How will his two terms be judged? Not just in the context of eight years but within the larger picture of mayors who came before?

What legacy does he leave? Where did he succeed, and where did he fail? 

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman has doggedly and meticulously covered Emanuel and his predecessors for decades, starting with former Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Spielman says Emanuel is “obsessed” with his legacy. “I have never seen a more frenzied end to an administration,” Spielman said. “He’s announcing things at a pace that you’d think he was still running for office, for the job that he’s about to relinquish. It’s a function of his insecurity that he’s not confident that he’s done the best he can and he’s ready to hand it off to someone else.”

High points of his mayoral tenure, Spielman says, include Emanuel’s progress on the pension crisis, though he didn’t finish the job. “He really needed another term to do that,” she said. “So he’s leaving it sort of in limbo … but it is far better than it was when he took office. He was left with a pile of bills.”

Spielman says Emanuel’s “top-down” leadership style will be among the less favorable parts of his legacy. “He didn’t lead people from the bottom up,” she said.