What Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's departure means for suburbs

 
 
Updated 9/4/2018 5:44 PM
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  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks in 2014 at International Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport. He announced Tuesday he won't run in 2019.

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks in 2014 at International Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport. He announced Tuesday he won't run in 2019. Daily Herald File Photo

Rahm Emanuel's intense, turbulent eight years as Chicago mayor produced unexpected benefits and losses for the suburbs.

The 58-year-old Chicago Democrat announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2019, a stunning move that upends the political order in the region.

"With our three children in college, Amy and I have decided to write another chapter," the mayor said Tuesday with his wife, Amy Rule, at his side.

During his tenure, Emanuel revamped the O'Hare International Airport modernization project and included plans for western access and a terminal long sought by DuPage County leaders as a job-growth machine.

But in his zeal to reinvigorate Chicago, the mayor left holes in the suburban economy by luring corporations like McDonald's from Oak Brook and Motorola Inc. from Libertyville and Schaumburg to downtown.

"It doesn't help any of us in the state to be competing with one another," Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler told the Daily Herald in 2014.

When Emanuel, a former congressman and chief of staff to President Barack Obama, became mayor in 2011, some feared his reputation as a tough negotiator would end badly for suburbs fighting O'Hare noise and expansion.

Starting in 2013, the war over airport noise found new life after the city shifted to a new east-west flight pattern. Friction also emerged in 2016 between the city and Illinois tollway and DuPage County leaders over the cost of airport property needed to build a ring road on the west side of O'Hare (I-490), which was later resolved.

But "we've appreciated Mayor Emanuel's willingness to communicate with the suburbs over the last eight years -- even during contentious issues," Bensenville Village Manager Evan Summers said.

Tollway Chairman Robert Schillerstrom said "the stronger the region is, the more the city and suburbs thrive. The mayor understood that."

This spring, the Chicago City Council finalized an $8.5 billion O'Hare 21 plan to remake O'Hare by replacing the outdated Terminal 2 and revamping Terminal 5.

The project also allows for an entrance and parking on the west side of O'Hare and a gradual, demand-driven evolution to a western terminal.

Emanuel's "push for O'Hare terminal improvements and support for transit, including the Red Line, new Pace services linking the suburbs to downtown, and upgrades to Chicago Union Station, will help both the city and suburbs," DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said.

"Perhaps the most significant impact (of Emanuel's tenure) won't be felt for a while," Lake County Partners CEO Kevin Considine said, referring to the airport modernization.

DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin said that "we've collaborated on a number of issues, including those concerning regional economic growth and our shared determination to fight the opioid addiction epidemic plaguing our communities."

A number of challengers have emerged to vie against Emanuel, who faced criticism over gun violence in Chicago and has been dogged by the death of Laquan McDonald, a black teen shot 16 times by a white police officer in 2014.

"This has been the job of a lifetime, but it is not a job for a lifetime," Emanuel said.

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