CHICAGO (AP) — After surviving an unexpectedly tough campaign for a second term, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday that Chicago's challenges "don't need to be made harder if I have a stylistic issue" but gave few details about how he'll change his approach.
Emanuel was re-elected with a double-digit victory over Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia in Tuesday's runoff. But that round took place only because the former White House chief of staff failed to win an outright majority in February, despite a massive advantage in fundraising and name recognition over four challengers.
In the second campaign burst, the famously aggressive mayor said he would soften his approach.
"If my style, as I said on the campaign, contributed and made what is already a hard issue harder, I own that," Emanuel told reporters Wednesday, echoing television commercials and campaign speeches.
But when asked how he planned to alter his management style, he said there wasn't a checklist and the election was a second chance to continue successes of the first four years.
"I enjoy campaigns because you hear things, you learn things that matter to people," he said. "You take those voices, those concerns into your office and ... make them your north stars."
Emanuel, who received congratulation calls from President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, said he and the city have their work cut out for them.
His administration now must negotiate a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union. Its president, Karen Lewis, considered challenging Emanuel but helped recruit Garcia to run after she was diagnosed with cancer. The last round of talks between Emanuel and the union led to Chicago's first teachers strike in 25 years. Tensions deepened the following year in 2013 when Emanuel pushed to close dozens of neighborhood schools.
Emanuel will have to work with teachers and other public-employee unions to address the worst pension crisis of any major U.S. city. Chicago's four pension systems are about $20 billion in debt, and the fund for Chicago Public Schools teachers is short about $7 billion of what's needed to pay benefits as promised.
If Emanuel can't work a deal with labor unions or get the Illinois Legislature to approve relief, the city is on the hook for an additional $550 million payment to the retirement accounts, bringing the total payment to about $1 billion. He has said that would be roughly equal to the annual cost of having 4,300 police officers on the street or raising property taxes by 150 percent.
Emanuel didn't delve into those details Wednesday, saying he was prepared to work with Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The two are friends but recently have been at odds publicly over proposed state budget cuts. Emanuel said Rauner called him Tuesday evening for a short congratulatory call.
Emanuel also will be dealing with concerns about crime, an area Garcia frequently cited as one of the mayor's failures. While the total number of homicides fell to just over 400 last year — the lowest level in a half-century — the number of shootings climbed 12 percent during the same period. In some areas, shootings increased at a rate more than double that of Chicago overall.
Garcia didn't hold any public appearances on Wednesday. In his concession speech, he said his campaign helped rally progressive Democrats, who promised to push Emanuel to further their policies.
Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday that while Emanuel may still have a firm majority on the council, he expects the political climate to become more two-sided.
"It begins to look like there's a growing layer of opposition which we think as it grows in size will also grow in confidence and will start looking like something the city hasn't had for a while, which is a coherent, outspoken political opposition," Sharkey said.
Emanuel said he welcomed new ideas, including from newly elected progressive members on the City Council.
He said he rejected both the era of "Council Wars," a contentious 1980s era when a bloc of council members opposed then-Mayor Harold Washington, and a "rubber stamp" council.
"I want the City Council to be part of reform and change," he said. "We have to embrace change and push it. If you have ideas, bring them forward."
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