Rahm Emanuel sworn-in as Chicago Mayor: “I have big shoes to fill”

May 16, 2011 12:39pm

ABC’s Chris Bury reports:  On a crisp, cool morning at Chicago’s handsome Millennium park — among outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley’s signature achievements — Rahm Emanuel officially took the helm of America’s third largest city.

At his swearing-in ceremony, the former White House chief of staff praised his retiring predecessor: “Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley.”

But Emanuel also pledged to “leave behind old ways and old divisions” in the racially divided and financially troubled city.  Emanuel acknowledged the difficulty he faces tackling Chicago’s enormous budget deficit.  “We simply can’t afford the size of city government that we had in the past.”

Emanuel’s deep Washington connections were reflected in a guest list that included Vice President Joe Biden and other top Obama administration officials.  Striking a note of unity, Emanuel — the city’s first Jewish mayor—invited Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Jewish clergy to offer prayers at the ceremony.

As Chicago’s 46th mayor,  Emanuel follows a famously powerful family dynasty.  Richard M. Daley served for 22 years, longer than any other mayor including his famous father, the last of the big-city bosses whose vast patronage army provided such political strength that it could influence presidential elections—including John F. Kennedy’s narrow win over Richard Nixon in 1960.

Emanuel knows that kind of power is long gone; court decisions have weakened the old patronage system and the new mayor will preside over a shrinking city with a growing budget deficit that is estimated to exceed $600 million next year.  In a  nod to that financial reality, Emanuel has pledged an immediate spending freeze on all but essential city services.

Nonetheless, the brash former Washington insider struck a positive tone in his inaugural speech.   In it, he sounded remarkably like his old boss in the White House. “Chicago is the city of “’yes, we can’ — not ‘no, we can’t.’”

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