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The Mechanics
« UPDATED: Mayor Emanuel's First Acts: Orders On Corruption and Lobbying Opening the Door to America »

Rahm Emanuel Tue May 17 2011

Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel! Celebrating the Rahm-nauguration

Submitted by John Greenfield

Cruising down the Milwaukee Avenue bicycle lane towards the Loop in brilliant sunshine, it occurs to me that we've been blessed with perfect weather for a momentous occasion, the passing of the torch from Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley to mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel. The inauguration is taking place at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion, the gleaming stainless-steel explosion that will serve future generations as the strongest visual reminder of Daley's reign. It's surely one of his proudest accomplishments as mayor.

When I reach Millennium Park there's a festival atmosphere and the police are in an unusually good mood. At the Washington Boulevard entrance to the park a few officers cheerfully direct me to the Randolph Street entrance, where a few other friendly cops send me pedaling back south to the Monroe Street entrance. There I'm finally able to lock up my bike and go through a bag search, metal detector and wand wave-down by some very polite security guards.

I'm a little late for the event and I've missed the musical prelude of the Chicago Children's Choir performing "One Day" by Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu, possibly a nod to Emanuel being the city's first Jewish mayor. But I'm in time to hear the breathtaking voice of Grammy winner Heather Headley singing the National Anthem.

The Great Lawn of the music pavilion is about half-full with well-wishers watching on Jumbotrons as a somber-looking Mayor Daley directs City Council proceedings leading up to the swearing in of city clerk Susana Mendoza, treasurer Stephanie Neely, and the fifty aldermen. One of the screens temporarily malfunctions and a black rectangle appears under Governor Pat Quinn's nose like Charlie Chaplin's mustache. Vice President Joe Biden sits near him, his face fixed in a frown.

Religious harmony is one of the themes of the event and leaders from four different denominations will take the stage today. After Catholic Archbishop Francis Cardinal George gives a low-key invocation, Imam Kareem M. Irfan, president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, offers a passionate prayer for peace. The imam's speech grows fiery as he calls for tolerance of religious differences and respect for the rights of immigrants. "Diversity is indeed the great strength of America," he asserts.

Next, Chanel Sosa, a teenage finalist in the "Louder than a Bomb" poetry competition reads one of her works that celebrates the bold "I will" spirit of Chicago that created a shining city of skyscrapers, but also exhorts its citizens to respect that might does not make right, and not to gloss over cultural differences. "Gentrification does not beautify communities," she says. "Assimilation does not equal unity."

The third religious leader to speak is Charles Jenkins, pastor of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. He delivers a prayer for guidance, requesting direction from the Lord on issues ranging from high gas prices to the Bulls battling the Miami Heat to reach the NBA finals. As the close of his prayer his speech grows faster and louder, building to a crescendo. "Mr. Mayor we will work with you because in Chicago we believe teamwork makes the dream work," he says.

Following a charming performance of "America the Beautiful" by tween violinist Clarissa Bevilacqua, Cook County circuit judge Timothy Evans administers the oath of office to Emanuel then gives him a hug, as the mayor-elect's family stands watching. After wiping away a tear, Emmanuel addresses the crowd, promising several times to focus on four main issues as mayor: schools, crime, more efficient government and jobs.

The new mayor does not fail to heap praise on the old one. "A generation ago people were writing Chicago off as a dying city," he says. "Chicago is a different city today thanks to everything Mayor Daley did." He notes that Millennium Park stands on top of what was formerly an eyesore, a disused rail yard. "Nobody ever loved this city more or loved it better than Mayor Daley," Emanuel says. "Now more than ever, Mayor Daley, Chicago loves you back." The crowd erupts in applause.

Emmanuel ends his speech by reminding us that Chicago rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, then burned again in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination. He notes that City Clerk Mendoza is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Treasurer Neely's parents were African Americans who emigrated to Chicago from Mississippi and that his own grandparents immigrated from eastern Europe. "Look at the three of us who are being sworn in today," he says. "It's fair to say we are not an older generation's Chicago."

Afterwards Rabbi Jack Moline gives a straightforward benediction, ending by wishing the new mayor "Mazel tov" -- good luck. Next the Chicago Children's Choir, which was founded during the Civil Rights Movement to promote understanding between kids of different backgrounds, performs "We Are," a plea for understanding complete with a beautiful vocal solo and stirring Bruce Hornsby-like paino. "We make it through together as one," the teens earnestly sing. Their heartfelt performance brings a tear or two to the eyes of this usually stoic reporter.

A motion to recess the City Council is called by veteran alderman Ed Burke, who worked behind the scenes to remove Emanuel from the ballot via residency requirements but has since mended fences with the new mayor. The children's choir ends the offical program with a rousing number called "Wavin' Flag," complete with "Glee"-like synchronized hand movements and Autotuned lead vocals.

As the crowd files out and I head back to my bicycle, the choir performs the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." Aldermen of all colors seem moved by the song, including Ed Burke and Richard Mell, two members of the infamous "Vrdolyak 29." Just as Republicans oppose Obama's every move today, in the 1980s this bloc of white aldermen stonewalled again Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor. These council wars lead the New York Times to call our city "Beirut on the Lake."

But as Emanuel said, it's a mostly a different generation of Chicago leaders now. This final Qumbaya moment is the coup de grace for the new mayor's celebration of diversity.

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